Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 1 November 2014

Marucci prepares to fit final pieces of his US team jigsaw

George (Buddy) Marucci has played in both winning and losing Walker Cup teams. Now, this 55-year-old investment broker is non-playing captain of the American side which defends the trophy at Royal County Down, only the second time the match has ever been held in Ireland.

Marucci, from Philadelphia, is in San Francisco this week on a talent-spotting mission before filling the last two places in his side for Newcastle.

To the winner of the US Amateur Championship at the famous Olympic Club will go a Cup blazer for sure - assuming he hasn't been picked already - but what about Drew Weaver, winner of the British title? Where does this 20-year-old witness to the Virginia Tech massacre fit into the Marucci puzzle, if at all?

A graduate of the University of Maryland, millionaire Marucci took his Walker Cup baptism at Porthcawl 12 years ago. This was the match in which Tiger Woods marked three balls out of bounds against Gary Wolstenholme yet only lost on the home green, prior to which Woods had beaten Marucci in the final of the US Amateur.

Buddy remembers that game well, and so he should. Not for surrendering a three-hole lead in a battle he might have won, but for the shot Woods played at the last hole in an absorbing eight hour thriller.

"I was hole high and looking good for the birdie needed to force a play-off," recalls George.

"The pressure was now on a 19-year-old Woods. He had a shot of 140 yards to the target, but hit a magnificent floater right over the flag, spinning the ball back to about 18 inches from the Cup. It was the shot of a champion. Even then, Tiger had more great shots in his bag than anyone else in the amateur game."

The Newport, Rhode Island course was burned to a cinder that week after a long, hot summer and called for a lot of home-made shots. Like some of those Marucci himself played in a shifting breeze to be three up on Woods through hole 12.

Buddy's game had mirrored his three home clubs, the bump-and-run of Merion, penal Pine Valley, and windswept Seminole as he refused to be overawed by the Tiger's power and super short game.

Woods had trailed by one hole going to lunch, but then soared into orbit on an afternoon of sparkling golf.

Even birdies weren't rewarded at times as an inspired champion hit six in 13 holes from the 21st before finally clinching his second of three major championships with that wonder shot on the 36th and final hole.

Trip Kuehne, at 35, a surprise choice for Royal County Down, was also a loosing finalist against Woods in the US Amateur. The steely Texan has played twice already in the Walker Cup, but without breaking much ice, as his record of one win in seven games might suggest.

The American team will fly in on Monday, September 3, five days before the match.

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