NCAA champion Max Homa beat Max Orrin 5 and 3 and the United States won the first six singles matches Saturday in the Walker Cup to take an 8-4 lead over Britain and Ireland at historic National Golf Links of America.
Homa, coming off his senior season at California, won the par-4 14th with a par and finished off the Englishman with a birdie win on the par-4 15th.
The U.S. rallied after Britain and Ireland took a 2 1 / 2-1 1 / 2 in the morning foursomes matches.
“I told them to believe in themselves,” U.S. captain Jim Holtgrieve said. “I told them to enjoy the moment. … They're really good friends. They fought for each other and you could just feel it after we were down after the morning that GB&I played well. I think one group was 5- or 6-under par. … They fought back today and they fought back with really good courage.”
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The biennial amateur event, first played in 1922 at National Golf Links, will close Sunday with four morning foursomes matches and 10 afternoon singles matches.
“Nothing changes,” Holtgrieve said. “It's match play, 8 to 4. It's still my message tonight when we get together is going to be the match is still even. We still need 5 1 / 2 points. … It's match play. This thing is not nearly over.”
Alabama teammates Bobby Wyatt and Cory Whitsett, California players Michael Kim and Michael Weaver and Oklahoma State's Jordan Niebrugge teamed with Homa to sweep the first six singles matches, and Alabama's Justin Thomas earned a halve in the seventh.
Wyatt beat England's Neil Raymond 2 up, Kim edged England's Callum Shinkwin 2 and 1, Whitsett topped England's Jordan Smith 1 up, Niebrugge beat England's Garrick Porteous 1 up, and Weaver topped U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick, also from England, 3 and 1.
“Any time you look up and see the team is doing well, it's certainly encouraging,” Wyatt said. “ 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 that everyone's playing well and doing what we want to do, which is win matches.”
Thomas halved with England's Nathan Kimsey, and Ireland's Gavin Moynihan beat Stanford's Patrick Rodgers 2 and 1 in the final match.
“America was in control most of the way,” Britain and Ireland captain Nigel Edwards said. “We didn't hole putts, shaving the edges a lot. Having said that, 8-4 is not an insurmountable lead. We're good at foursomes. We're good players. We're good at singles. So, game on tomorrow.”
Edwards was asked what he would tell his team.
“Hole more putts,” he responded. “Well, to be fair to them, you know, they haven't played as well as they would have liked to have played. That's pretty obvious. Having said that, one afternoon doesn't make them bad players. They've been good players all year and they've been good players for a number of years. So we'll just refocus and perhaps this is what we need to kick up our back side to get us moving forward.”
In the morning foursomes, Wyatt and Whitsett rallied to halve with Kimsey and Orrin, and Rodgers and Thomas earned a full point, beating Moynihan and Ireland's Phelan 2 and 1. Fitzpatrick and Raymond edged Niebrugge and Nathan Smith 1 up, and Porteous and Wales' Rhys Pugh topped Weaver and Spartanburg’s Todd White 3 and 1.
“Getting that half was big,” Wyatt said. “We never led, and just to be able to eek that out and make it as close as we possibly could, and then the afternoon I think it was a little bit of boost for the whole team, especially for me to kind of get the pressure off of you and just get out there and play the best you can. Fortunately, we were able to get it done.”
The matches are named in honor of former USGA President George Herbert Walker – President George H.W. Bush's grandfather and President George W. Bush's great-grandfather. George W. Bush attended the matches Saturday.
In the last matches, Britain and Ireland won 14-12 in 2011 at Royal Aberdeen in Scotland for the team's first victory since 2003. The U.S. leads the series 34-8-1.