US Walker Cup captain to offer Sept. 11 message

U.S Walker Cup captain Jim Holtgrieve will have a message for his players on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I have a special letter that I'm going to read to the team on Sunday morning," he said Friday. "It's a very special letter."

The Walker Cup, a tournament pitting the United States against a team from Britain-Ireland, is named after the grandfather of former President George H.W. Bush and great-grandfather of George W. Bush.

The match-play event begins Saturday at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club with four morning alternate-shot matches and eight afternoon singles matches. On Sunday, there are four morning alternate-shot matches and 10 afternoon singles matches.

The 63-year-old Holtgrieve played on winning teams for the Americans in 1979, '81 and '83. Come Sunday, he suspects his players will be able to concentrate on golf.

"It's probably not going to affect our guys' playing," he said. "I think, if anything, they will play harder. It's not going to affect their focus and their commitment and the way they manage their games out there.

"I'm convinced they are so mature about that. And whatever happens, will happen, and when the matches are over, we will obviously recognize what took place 10 years ago."

For some of the golfers, the Walker Cup is a rare chance to play on a team.

"When it comes to the U.S. Opens I've played in, I just have to worry about going out there and fighting for me, and it's almost like I've got nothing to lose playing as an amateur," said 22-year-old Russell Henley, who won on the Nationwide Tour this year. "This week I'm fighting for a lot more than just me. And I think that adds a little bit of pressure, but it's a pressure I'm looking forward to and I feel like I'm ready for it."

Holtgrieve sprang a surprise when he announced his pairings for the opening foursomes, splitting fourth-ranked Peter Uihlein and Nathan Smith, who won their foursomes when the U.S. strolled to a 16½-9½ victory in the last Walker Cup.

That was played at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., two years ago. Uihlein and Smith are the only players on this U.S. team who played in 2009.

Uilhein partners sixth-ranked Harris English in the opening match against Tom Lewis and Michael Stewart. Smith, ranked No. 108, goes in the third of the four foursomes with 21-year-old Blane Barber from Florida.

"All 10 players get along well together," Holtgrieve said. "They like each other and want to play with each other, so the only difficulty I had was who to leave out."

Such is the depth of Holtgrieve's 10-man team that he can afford to omit from his foursomes the world's second- and third-ranked amateurs — Jordan Spieth and Patrick Rodgers.

With strong winds and rain predicted for the weekend, the Americans face some harsh Scottish weather. And that's something likely to suit the hosts more.

"I'm not so sure the guys like the coldness today," Holtgrieve said. "Obviously, we hear the forecast is for wind. I have to be honest since I have not played in wind and rain over in Scotland, I hope that we don't have both."

Britain-Ireland captain Nigel Edwards, who played in four Walker Cups, is ready for the challenge of the elements.

"This year, it feels like we have been playing in a hurricane all summer," Edwards said. "Certainly from the Lytham Trophy, where it was really brutal. Every week has been the same."