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Walker Cup gives U.S. team a shot at redemption

Mike James, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Golf

No image captured the United States' fate at the 2015 Walker Cup better than the shot of Spider Miller, the team's captain, sitting on the closing ceremony stage with elbows on knees, head bowed.

As tears formed in Miller's eyes, Bryson DeChambeau leaned over and consoled him, his right arm resting on Miller's shoulders.

DeChambeau has moved on to a career on the PGA Tour. Miller is back for one more try. He's planning on a very different closing ceremony this year.

The 46th Walker Cup -- a biennial competition between top 10 amateurs from the United States against a team from Britain -- will make its first appearance in Southern California on the North Course of the Los Angeles Country Club Saturday and Sunday.

Two years ago at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England, the U.S. team fell behind early and was thumped 16 1/2 to 9 1/2, its worst defeat in a series it leads 35-9-1.

Miller, the United States Golf Association Mid-Amateur champion in 1996 and '98 and a member of the 1999 Walker Cup team, has an easygoing, avuncular demeanor that can hide how intensely he wants to change the outcome of two years ago.

"I'm very competitive; I never like to lose," he said this week. "I was taught you should always be the same whether you win or lose; I'll try to be that way this time. But internally, I want to win."

Miller's excited about this year's team: He has U.S. Amateur champion Doc Redman; Amateur runner-up Doug Ghim; Mid-Amateur champion Stewart Hagestad; Scottie Scheffler, low amateur in the U.S. Open; Collin Morikawa, No. 5 in the world amateur rankings; NCAA Division I champion Braden Thornberry; Western Amateur winner Norman Xiong; Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Will Zalatoris; world No. 2 Maverick McNealy; and long-hitting Cameron Champ on the roster.

The North Course was restored by architect Gil Hanse in 2010 to more closely resemble its original design by George Thomas in the late 1920s. The club has been historically very private, and members have been encouraged to keep information about it inside the understated entrance on Wilshire Boulevard. But with enthusiasm over the redesign and an evolving membership, the club is hosting a USGA national event for the first time since the U.S. Junior Amateur in 1954. The U.S. Open will be played on the same real estate in 2023.

The course is long and expansive, deceptively wide open until a slightly errant tee ball reveals a long second shot into an intensely bunker-protected green. At almost 7,400 yards, length off the tee will be an asset.

Ziong and Champ are particularly long hitters on the U.S. team. On the first hole, playing well over 500 yards, Champ hit a nine-iron to the green for his second shot during a practice round this week.

"I'll be honest with you," Miller said, "I can't see Cam's ball land. I've tried every combination of sunglasses. I'm trying to see it come down just once."

Home course has been an advantage in the series; the U.S. has won every match but one in the U.S. since losing in 1989.

"You have some great golfers and the U.S. tour here," said Andy Ingram, coach of the Great Britain and Ireland team. "It's always going to be a big feat for a small country like Great Britain and Ireland to come over here and beat your guys.

"Having said that, there's no real reason why it should make a lot of difference. We like playing in the sunshine. Unfortunately, we don't play that often in the sunshine. ... So, really there's no reason why we can't come here and win. We haven't won for 16 years, and it's time we did."

Harry Ellis, the British Amateur champion, likes his team's chances, particularly since the first four matches Saturday are alternate shot, a format the British golfers play far more frequently than the Americans.

"If we can get an advantage somewhat Saturday morning," he said, "I think it can carry into our performance over the next few sessions. So I think we would say probably we do have an advantage."

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