Lesson Learned: The Walker Cup Reminds Us of What Makes Team Golf Great

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Golf is an individual sport. We take our equipment, tee the ball up and play. Granted we are in the company of others on most occasions, but the reality is it’s a contest between us and the course. Every so often, we are presented with an opportunity to play a little team golf. A great example of this type of golf was on display this past weekend during the Walker Cup matches. A biennial team match between the United States and Great Britain/Ireland. Each team is composed of ten young amateur players.
Even though we’ve discussed being a great golf teammate before on, a true team competition like the Walker Cup brings about an increased level of partner pressure.
As the match unfolded this past weekend, it was interesting to observe how the different players came together. After all, each member of the USA competes against one another every other week. How do golfers successfully unite toward a common cause? It seems simple, just play good together, but as we have all seen in several Ryder Cup and Walker Cup matches what’s on paper seldom is used for a script.
Any PGA Coach will tell you playing in one of these matches is great fun. So definitely participate, and when you find yourself involved in way or another in the future, here’s some tips for getting your team to perform.
When you join the team, you’ll either be a team member or the Captain. For both cases, there’s a couple simple principles you should employ to help generate a positive atmosphere. Let’s start with the team member.
  1. Practice your short game and putting.
  2. When in doubt, review rule #1.
Every partner will love you and every singles opponent will despise you. Learn from the best, in watching the Walker Cup, players like Ricky Castillo went 4-0 because he was the sharpest around the green.
Match play is very different than stroke play. One bad swing might cost you a hole, not three shots. Yet a solid short game will win you several holes. Manage your preparation accordingly.
In most of the matches you will compete in, the Captain plays with the team. With two roles to contend with, it’s imperative you bring an excellent scoring focus to your game. Even more important, is getting to know your team. Try these positive principles when you lead your group into a match.
  • Your players will feel extra pressure, take every opportunity to keep them calm. The best
    Captains know when to throw in a good joke or point out something funny. Don’t get so focused on the task at hand that you forget golf is truly just a game.
  • Don’t pair players by their game, pair them by personality. The most important rule. Think back to the greatest Ryder Cup pairings, they played like brothers. Matching up game types is irrelevant.
  • Prepare your reactions. Your team will look to you before they react. Don’t let a chip-in or big putt surprise you. Take it in stride and your team will as well.
We don’t get to play in team events very often, as a result we put extra pressure on ourselves. Since you can’t prepare for every scenario prior to the big match use these guidelines as a blueprint not only to win, but even more importantly for enjoying the camaraderie and the moment.