Sep 5, 2013
By Steve Irvine
Finding a connection to the University of Alabama men's golf program won't be difficult this weekend when the top amateur golfers in the world get together at the National Golf Links of America in Southhampton, N.Y., to compete in the Walker Cup Match.
It will be a chance for veteran Crimson Tide golfers Bobby Wyatt and Cory Whitsett to play on the opposite side from incoming freshman Gavin Moynihan. It will also be the final opportunity for Wyatt and Whitsett to play alongside former Crimson Tide teammate Justin Thomas, who will turn pro following this weekend's event.
Most of all, though, it marks an opportunity for the four golfers with Crimson Tide ties to play for national pride.
"It's incredible to be able to represent your country on one of the biggest stages in amateur golf," Whitsett said. "It's really going to be special and to share it with three teammates is really going to be cool. Obviously, Bobby and Justin have done a lot in college golf, they are very deserving of the spot. To have an incoming freshman on the other team is really cool too."
Wyatt, Whitsett and Thomas are part of a 10-man team representing the United States in biennial event that matches the U.S. against a team of 10 amateur golfers from Great Britain and Ireland. The competition begins on Saturday and concludes on Sunday with 18 singles matches and eight foursomes playing alternate-shot matches. The USA leads the overall series, 34-8-1, and has not lost on American soil since the 2001 Match at Ocean Forest Golf Club in Sea Island, Ga.
Moynihan, who is from Dublin, Ireland, is one of two 18-year-old players in the event, joining 2013 U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick on the Great Britain and Ireland team. He is the first player from Coach Jay Seawell's Alabama program to play for the Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup.
Whitsett and Thomas were among the first wave of golfers chosen to the U.S. team earlier this summer. Whitsett said he wasn't surprised with the selection after he followed a strong junior season at Alabama with a solid performance early in the summer. Whitsett, along with Wyatt, helped the USA over Europe in the Palmer Cup in June and later won the Northeast Amateur after finishing with a 63, which was the lowest final-score by the winner in the event's history. Whitsett and Wyatt each went 3-0-1 in the Palmer Cup.
"I had a pretty good idea after the month I had," Whitsett said when asked by his selection to the Walker Cup team. "I played very well at (the NCAA Men's Golf Championship), particularly in match play portion. I think that helped me out a lot. In the Palmer Cup, I played well and I played very well (after that). I knew I would be in good position in the selection process."
Wyatt had to wait a little longer to get the call, even though he has equally lofty credentials. The Mobile native's summer included making the second round in the 2013 U.S. Amateur and his outstanding performance in the Palmer Cup. He learned about the selection to the Walker Cup in August.
"I was just relieved," Wyatt said. "It was something I really wanted to be a part of and had dreamed of happening. To get that phone call, when I realized for the first time that I would be a member of the team, was really special to me."
It was also special to his Alabama teammates.
"We were on pins and needles," Whitsett said. "He was more than deserving of the spot, we just weren't sure the way everything was going. No one really knows. I feel like he played more than well enough to deserve the spot."
Now, Whitsett, Wyatt and Thomas are focused on playing together one final time.
"Cory and Justin are great friends of mine," Wyatt said. "To share experience with them and to be a member of a team with Justin one last time is special."
For Seawell, though, it's going to be a bittersweet moment when the tournament ends on Sunday and his three veteran players are no longer on the same team.
"Sunday will be a sad day with Justin not with us anymore," Seawell said. "At the same time, he's ready and we're totally in support of it. Those guys have done a lot for Alabama golf. I get chance to talk to you and others about Alabama golf because of what they've done."
Obviously, plenty of good times are still ahead for the Crimson Tide golf program with players like Wyatt, Whitsett and Moynihan still around. However, for a few days, Seawell is happy to be a spectator and even has a preferred script.
"I'm pulling for Gavin to go 4-0 and not play any of our guys," Seawell said with a laugh. "I'm really pulling for him to play well but the in the final outcome I'm pulling for America."