SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – A half-point.
That might not seem too significant a number in the Walker Cup, where there are 26 available points over two days.
But when the USA duo of Cory Whitsett and Bobby Wyatt “stole” a half-point from their Great Britain and Ireland counterparts Nathan Kimsey and Max Orrin with a birdie-4 on the 18th hole Saturday morning in foursomes (alternate-shot), it provided a much-needed psychological boost.
Instead of facing a two-point deficit, the Americans were only down a point going into the afternoon singles session at the National Golf Links of America.
And after garnering 6½ of the possible eight points for its best singles-session showing since Day 2 of the 1997 Match at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y., the Americans owned a commanding 8-4 lead.
The USA needs only 5½ points on Sunday to regain the Walker Cup, while GB&I will need nine of the possible 14 points to retain it.
“It was huge,” said USA Captain Jim Holtgrieve of the late momentum in foursomes. “We needed something, and for those guys to make that… their eyes changed a little bit – come on, we can do this.”
Given time during the session break to provide words of wisdom, Holtgrieve simply told his players to continue believing in themselves and enjoy the moment. The only other change came in the wardrobe, as the players switched from white shirts and red pants to red shirts and blue pants.
From the GB&I perspective, the color scheme was leaning toward black and blue.
At one point during the singles, it appeared the USA might achieve a clean 8-0 sweep, something that had never been done in 43 previous Walker Cups.
“It’s certainly encouraging,” said Wyatt, a 2-up winner over 2013 U.S. Amateur co-medalist Neil Raymond of England. “For me personally it doesn’t really change the way I’m playing, but it definitely gets you a little more excited just to know everyone’s playing well and dong what we want to do, which is to win matches.”
Moynihan, playing in the final match, earned a 2-and-1 win over Patrick Rodgers for GB&I’s only full point. The other half-point came from Kimsey, who halved his match with Justin Thomas, who tweaked his back on the inward nine and will now sit out Sunday’s foursomes sessions.
“The wind got up in the afternoon and I knew it would benefit me,” said Moynihan, 18, of Dublin, who is an incoming freshman at the University of Alabama. “You’re going to miss greens, and I have a pretty sharp short game.”
Max Homa of the USA, who sat out the morning foursomes session along with his former University of California-Berkeley teammate Michael Kim, had the largest victory of the day, earning a 5-and-3 decision over Max Orrin. Matt Fitzpatrick, the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world and the 2013 U.S. Amateur champion, was defeated by another Golden Bear, 2012 U.S. Amateur runner-up Michael Weaver, 3 and 1.
Reigning U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Jordan Niebrugge also produced a 1-up win, over Garrick Porteous, the 2013 British Amateur champion.
Wyatt even overcame a one-stroke penalty on the 10th green – he accidentally dropped his ball on his marker and caused it to move – in his win over Raymond.
“A lot of things went America’s way today,” said GB&I captain Nigel Edwards. “But we’re looking to turn that around [Sunday morning], first and foremost, and then into the [Sunday afternoon] singles matches.”
If anything, Edwards can point to past experience. In 2001, GB&I won 6½ points in the Sunday singles to earn a 15-9 win.
“Hole more putts,” said Edwards on his team message. “To be fair to them, they haven’t played as well as they would have liked to have played.
“Having said that, one afternoon does not make them bad players. So we’ll just refocus and perhaps this is what we need to kick our back side to get us moving forward.”
It’s certainly a tall task, but foursomes has traditionally been a strong suit for GB&I and Edwards hopes his squad can gain the upper hand like it did on Saturday morning.
Porteous and Rhys Pugh were the equivalent of six under par in their 3-and-1 win over Michael Weaver and Todd White. Pugh, a member of the victorious 2011 GB&I Team, is now 4-0 in Walker Cup play. Fitzpatrick and Raymond pulled out a 1-up win over Niebrugge and Nathan Smith, the four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion.
Edwards has chosen to go with the exact same foursomes lineup on Sunday.
Holtgrieve, on the other hand, made a couple of tweaks. The University of Alabama duo of Wyatt and Whitsett will be paired again, as will Weaver and White. But Jordan Niebrugge will play with Rodgers, and Homa and Michael Kim will form a tandem.
All 10 players from each side will play singles in the afternoon, beginning at 12:30 p.m. EDT.
“Nothing changes,” said Holtgrieve. “It’s match play. My message tonight when we get together is going to be the match is still even. We still need 5½ points.
“This thing is not nearly over.”
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.