Marucci Won't Defend Due To Walker Cup Commitment
By Ken Klavon, USGA
Ardmore, Pa. – George “Buddy” Marucci knew he’d be a lame-duck champion. He realized it as soon as George Zahringer conceded on the 18th hole in last year’s USGA Senior Amateur at Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.
For some, it’s hard to envision plans a year out, let alone a week. Not Marucci. He had already committed to captaining the USA Walker Cup team again this weekend at Merion Golf Club. The decision wasn’t fraught with regret, although it lent itself to becoming bittersweet when he finally won his first USGA title.
“Given the two, it’s not even a question in my mind,” said the 57-year-old Marruci. “[Being captain] is the nicest thing that’s ever happened to me in golf.”
In winning the Senior Amateur, Marucci became the first Walker Cup captain to earn a USGA title since Jay Sigel accomplished the feat in 1985. Sigel won the 1985 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship while he was that year’s Walker Cup captain.
It was Marucci’s second USGA championship final, following his appearance 14 years ago at the 1995 U.S. Amateur, where he lost to Tiger Woods, 2 down, at Newport (R.I.) Country Club.
“Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to have finally won a USGA championship,” said Marucci. “It means the world to me. But given the two responsibilities, I’m very happy to be doing this at Merion.”
And for good reason. It’s a homecoming of sorts for the Villanova, Pa., resident. Marucci has been a longtime member at Merion, literally growing up on the course, and knowing all of its intricacies and nuances as well as anyone. When he lived a stone’s throw to the premises, he used to sneak on as a lad to play. During the 2005 U.S. Amateur held at Merion, Marucci held court as a competitor that year and relayed stories about how he used to watch golf as a young child at the club.
For the past four years he’s been immersed in Walker Cup minutiae. The process began on Feb. 2, 2006, when he was named captain of the 2007 squad. He led that team to an exhilarating 12 ½-11 ½ victory at Royal County Down Golf Club in Newcastle, North Ireland.
Soon after, the USGA appointed him captain again as a mere formality. Most captains are afforded the chance to do it twice, once on home soil and again on foreign turn.
While trying to keep his competitive golf chops sharp by playing in such championships as the U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Amateur, Marucci had to balance that with widespread scouting missions, which encompassed travel to a multitude of amateur tournaments.
“I'll tell you, Buddy has done a terrific job as captain,” said USGA Vice President Jim Hyler, who also serves on the International Team Selection Committee that selects players for the Walker Cup and World Amateur Team Championship. “He has traveled all over the country now for almost four years watching players.He spent a lot of time doing this. He obviously is still very competitive in a lot of these major amateur events. He plays alongside these kids. He has just really given his heart and soul to being captain. I think we've been very lucky to have him in this role.”
Marucci has understood the honor of being asked to represent the USA against the Great Britain and Ireland team for the 42nd Walker Cup Match. After all, he played on two teams – 1995 and 1997 – generating a career 4-1-1 record.
This Match holds special significance being at Merion. He’s worked extensively with the USA lineup during the many practice sessions leading up to the two-day competition. He can be seen offering instruction on every facet of the East Course, whether it’s about penal rough, landing areas or the slick greens. Asked whether he felt any added pressure with the Match being on his home course, Marucci said he was aware that club members, family and friends will be out in full force. He vowed that he won’t allow it to be a distraction because the event isn’t about him, but more so about the team. “It’s a little more intense because you have more people around. I may put a little more pressure on [the] guys,” he said pointing to Rickie Fowler and Brian Harman Friday, “but it’s not that extreme.”
As several USA teammates relaxed in Merion’s clubhouse quarters Thursday, Marucci joked and offered deadpan responses to keep things loose. The team has fed off his energy and leadership.
“He’s been helping us with sight lines and things on the course we may not have otherwise been in tune with,” said Nathan Smith, 31, of Pittsburgh, Pa.
Said Fowler, who delayed turning professional as a favor to Marucci, and played on the 2007 Walker Cup team: “He has seen all the situations. He’s been there and done that. He’s been there as a player in this and he knows what it takes. We look to him for guidance. He keeps us calm about it all.”
That’s a huge advantage for the USA squad. After all, with no disrespect to Beverly Country Club in Chicago, the Senior Amateur will simply have to do without its defending champion.
Marucci figured he has several solid competitive years left in his bones. There will be another time to win again, and perhaps duplicate the act when the time is right.
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s Editor of Digital Media. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.