On eve of Walker Cup, teams hoping to get past stomach ailment and onto matches

A stomach bug is traveling through both teams at the Walker Cup at Seminole Golf Club, but play will go on.

On eve of Walker Cup, teams hoping to get past stomach ailment and onto matches

JUNO BEACH, Fla. – Cooper Dossey didn’t sleep much on Thursday night. As a stomach bug moves through the U.S. Walker Cup team – the Great Britain and Ireland team, too – several players at Seminole Golf Club for these week’s matches have found the concept of infection a bit unnerving.

Three weeks ago, Dossey, a fifth-year senior at Baylor, found out he’d be an alternate for the U.S. team, replacing Oklahoma’s Garret Reband. Dossey picked up the phone mid-April to hear U.S. team manager Robbie Zalzneck on the other end.

“Robbie started the phone call saying this is going to be awkward, so I knew what he was going to say after that,” he said. “I just told him, it’s not awkward at all. I told him, I’m thrilled to be here.”

And so far, his health remains intact too.

“I feel great so far, I don’t have any issues,” Dossey reported after spending several minutes moving around a practice chipping green at Seminole. “I don’t know what the heck it is but it’s knocking them down.”

Dossey’s status in the matches remains uncertain. Two alternates are present for each side, an unprecedented detail put in place this year as a COVID protocol. Dossey joins Mac Meissner, an SMU senior, on the U.S. side. GB&I brought Jake Bolton and Joe Pagdin after already dipping into the alternate pool in April when Jack Dyer replaced Sandy Scott, who took himself out of the matches because of a wrist injury.

“The other good thing,” John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s senior managing director or championships, told media on Friday evening, “we made a decision about testing players every day so we knew early on this wasn’t COVID.”

Bodenhamer said foodborne illness has been ruled out and the cause of players’ symptoms is a virus.

It’s rampant. Bodenhamer said up to six members of the U.S. team have reported experiencing symptoms, with one player still struggling with the illness. Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A, said seven of the 12 GB&I players have suffered from the illness, with one player still feeling ill. Both captains have experienced symptoms, too.

Robbie Zalzneck from the USGA talks to a group of US Team members during a practice round at the 2021 Walker Cup at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla. on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Chris Keane/USGA)

A player can only be subbed out of a session for illness. And if he feels well enough to return for a subsequent session, he’s eligible to do so.

The USGA and R&A delayed the announcement of pairings, usually revealed at the opening ceremony, to Saturday morning at 7 a.m. ET.

“The key thing to remember is the original 10 that will be the core,” Slumbers said.

A two-year body of work

Truly, selection to the Walker Cup team is a reflection of a player’s two-year body of work. Perhaps no one can put that into words better than Cole Hammer, a U.S. returner who was uncertain to make the team until winning the South Beach International Amateur in December and nearly winning the Jones Cup a month later.

“Two years ago was the best experience of my life on the golf course, and I wanted with everything in my body to get back here,” he said. “Obviously it’s a great feeling to be able to have done it, but I will say back in October, November of last year I was really stressing out. I was behind the 8-ball on the outside looking in, and I knew it, and I knew I just needed to go out and play a bunch of good golf.”

Hammer, who is coming off the individual title at the Big 12 Championship, recently made a coaching change to Bruce Davidson, with whom he’s worked as a kid. Davidson helped him get in a better position at the top so he could hit a draw again, a shot shape he likes.

He can trust what he’s doing, and that makes him formidable this week. Hammer won a lopsided Sunday singles match for the U.S. at the 2019 Walker Cup, and this week is one of three returners for the U.S. squad along with John Pak and Stewart Hagestad.

“I remember standing on the first tee last time and how cool of an experience it was,” Hammer said, “and I also remember how fast it was over.”

Alex Fitzpatrick was often in that lead-up spot for GB&I in 2019 – he played every match and brought home two of a possible four points for GB&I. He’s the only returning members for that side.

Fitzpatrick, whose older brother Matthew Fitzpatrick plays on the PGA and European Tours, feels fortunate to have family friends who are members at Seminole. He’s seen the place a handful of times, and even once had a putt for birdie for a back-nine 29 here.

“Every time I come here I love it just as much,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s my sort of course where there’s no trees by the side of the tee that I’m worried about hitting. It’s just a lot of drivers.”

Golf aside, there remains the feeling that the weekend presents a bit of a gauntlet for players.

“I’m being very cautious with what I eat and where I go, and I’m sanitizing as much as I can,” Fitzpatrick said of his approach. “But it’s kind of luck of the draw really. I’m hoping that it doesn’t happen to me and that I can be healthy for tomorrow’s match.”

As for Dossey, who had a conversation with Zalzneck after playing Seminole’s sixth hole on Friday, the possibility of seeing action over the weekend is very real. He already called his mom back in Austin, Texas. Tears were shed and the Dosseys boarded a flight for South Florida.

Dossey said he has a strong relationship with Meissner, the other alternate, and told Meissner he shouldn’t think twice about playing if an alternate is needed, provided he feels well.

“These guys are some of my best friends,” he said. “I told them all when I got here that I hope I don’t play this weekend. They all deserve it, they got selected. But obviously things have changed. I’m ready to play, I’m hopeful that I don’t. If my name does get called, I’m excited and honored.”

Source : Golf Week More   

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Steve Stricker 'didn't do anything dumb today,' and is in the lead at another PGA Tour Champions major

Steve Stricker finished Friday with a birdie on the final hole to push into a four-way tie for the lead at Greystone Golf and Country Club.

Steve Stricker 'didn't do anything dumb today,' and is in the lead at another PGA Tour Champions major

There’s a misconceived notion that those on the PGA Tour Champions are simply soaking up retirement benefits while playing a little golf.

But in the case of Steve Stricker, he might have more going on now than during his time on the PGA Tour.

Stricker, of course, has to be mindful of what’s happening on the Tour, as the Ryder Cup is in just under five months at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, as he’s the American team captain.

Also, a hot housing market gave Stricker reason to give up his Naples home, and he’s currently looking for another place to live somewhere in the central part of the state.

Oh, and then there’s the Regions Tradition, the first PGA Tour Champions major of the year this week in Birmingham, Alabama, where Stricker will need to survive four rounds and not the typical three of a senior circuit event.

Regions Tradition: Leaderboard

Despite all the moving parts, Stricker kept his focus on Friday, finishing with a birdie on the final hole of the day to push into a four-way tie for the lead at Greystone Golf and Country Club.

“I’m right there. I didn’t do anything dumb today, just hung around,” Stricker said after his 69, which put him at 7 under after two days, tied with Alex Cejka, Jerry Kelly and Darren Clarke. “We’re only halfway home, so we have a weekend to go. Someone’s going to probably bust out of this pack, I would imagine. The wind is supposed to switch directions for the weekend, so that will shake things up probably a little bit, too.

“The course is in great shape and just kind of continue to do what I’ve been doing.”

Stricker will have six captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup, half of the 12-member team, which will be announced after the second FedEx Cup playoffs event at the end of August. The matches are Sept. 24-26.

But he kept his composure despite some blustery conditions on Friday, giving himself a chance to repeat at Regions — he won by a half-dozen strokes in the 2019 event. Last year’s tournament was canceled due to the pandemic.

“It’s been a struggle the first couple of days with the wind conditions, I feel like. Our whole group kind of struggled today a little bit,” he said. “We had some good up-and-downs and I kept the round going by getting some of these good up-and-downs. But that wind has made it tricky on club selection; you feel like it’s one way and it’s blowing another.

“It’s been hard at times to hit some really quality iron shots.”

Source : Golf Week More   

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