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HOYLAKE, England – During the U.S. Walker Cup practice session last December at Seminole Golf Club, U.S. team manager Robbie Zalzneck presented an idea to American captain Nathaniel Crosby: Let’s play foursomes, and let’s play foursomes a lot.
“[He] stepped up and grabbed me [at the practice session] and said, ‘This is probably a good idea because we keep getting shellacked in the alternate shot, and especially on foreign soil,’” Crosby said. “We really focused on it.”
So much so that the Americans not only played the format all three days in South Florida, but they also competed for six rounds in exclusively alternate shot two weekends ago during an official team practice at Pinehurst. And since getting to England last Saturday, the U.S. team’s time on the course has been spent mostly on foursomes.
The U.S. team is referring to the foursomes crash course as the “Zalzneck Curriculum.”
“I think we’ve put a lot of emphasis on how important that is,” Brandon Wu said. “I know historically we haven’t done as well in the foursomes format as we would have liked … but we played a bunch of foursomes [in preparation]. I think we’ve had the experience of kind of getting used to the format, getting used to our partners, and looking forward to getting that started.”
The U.S. traditionally is at a disadvantage when it comes to foursomes as the Great Britain and Ireland players are exposed to the format much earlier and more often. That handicap is multiplied on foreign soil. In their last two Walker Cup road trips, the Americans have won just 3.5 out of 16 possible foursomes points.
But that isn’t the only reason why it’s crucial for the U.S. to perform well in alternate shot this weekend. History favors the team that plays the best in foursomes, even if the format accounts for just eight of the available 26 points.
In the past 11 Walker Cups, the winning team earned more points via foursomes. Also, just once during that span has a winning team lost the opening session.
“It’s not everything, but in any sport, in any game you want to set the tone early and try to keep the momentum going throughout the week,” said John Augenstein, who will team with Andy Ogletree in Saturday morning’s leadoff match against GB&I’s Alex Fitzpatrick and Conor Purcell.
The other three foursomes matches are as follows: John Pak and Isaiah Salinda vs. Sandy Scott and Euan Walker; Stewart Hagestad and Akshay Bhatia vs. Harry Hall and Conor Gough; and Brandon Wu and Alex Smalley vs. Tom Sloman and Thomas Plumb. Eight singles matches will follow Saturday afternoon.
Notably sitting out the first session for the Americans is No. 1-ranked amateur Cole Hammer, but the Americans feel confident they’ve done enough prep work to get the job done Saturday morning. Just about every one of the 10 American players have played alternate shot with each of his teammates over these past seven days in England. They’ve tried out different golf balls. They’ve studied which holes certain players will tee off on. They’ve found out which players are most compatible to their games and mindsets.
“It’s not something we grow up doing, but I think we’re prepared, and we’ve kind of got our teams organized now,” Crosby said. “I think we’ve got the right players playing with the right players, a lot of chemistry, a lot of bickering, which makes it healthy, so I think we’re in good shape and we’re optimistic about alternate shot this time.”
In other words, the Americans have the tools to succeed, but can they pass their first foursomes test?