ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – It was just after 1 p.m. 13 local time on Wednesday as Gordon Sargent strolled to the Old Course’s first tee with US Walker Cup teammate Nick Gabrelcik.
“I just want to see where it goes,” Sargent said as he pulled the main cover off his driver and proceeded to start a tight, powerful pull down the right side — OK, he pushed it an inch or two — of the 375-yard hole . Sargent’s ball took three bounces before coming to rest in the Swilcan Burn.
The ultra-long Vanderbilt junior certainly won’t go with the big stick at No. 1 once he reaches 49.th The Walker Cup begins on Saturday at St. Andrews. But don’t expect Sargent or any of the other 19 competitors – USA or UK and Ireland, long or short, aggressive or conservative – to keep the driver in the bag.
“Obviously it depends on the wind, but I feel like every single hole if you hit driver there’s at least one side to miss, so I probably hit a good amount of drivers,” Sargent said. “It’s important to hit it in the fairway, but the swing is not quite as high as it usually is, so you can kind of hit it up there and be in some nice places. There are some holes where you have to be in the fairway. But I think that’s a lot of drivers, and if it suits your eye, it’s probably also played on those holes.”
That hit-it-hard strategy was fully supported during a Wednesday practice round, when American players paired up for an alternate shot in mostly benign conditions, the turf softened somewhat overnight. Sargent played 12 holes with North Carolina’s Dylan Menante, and the duo shot 4 under with a bogey and a three-putt par on No. 10, one of two par-4s where Sargent drove the green.
Before you find the front of the putting green on the 386-yard, par-4 10thth hole, Sargent hit a drive to 10 feet on the 414-yard, par-4 sixth, which led to an eagle. On the 351-yard 12thth hole, Sargent’s drive found a bunker about 10 yards from the green. Menante said he had wedges — or less — into Nos. 2, 6, 10 and 12, and a 7-iron into the 480-yard fourth hole, where Sargent went 3-wood off the tee.
“A lot of wedges and putts, that’s the game plan,” said Sargent, who will likely pair with Menante at least once in the foursome.
The fan was cranked up a bit to close the stretch into the wind as Sargent switched partners with Alabama’s Nick Dunlap, another Bomber, and there were some short irons getting dirty. Mid-amateur Stewart Hagestad reckons he was “pretty close” to using every club in his bag.
“If the weather is great, you play for it,” Hagestad said. “And if it’s windy and windy, you adjust accordingly.”
But based on Tuesday’s observations, even a little wind and rain won’t keep the driver at bay. There’s sure to be plenty of wedges, pitches, putts and hopefully a flurry of birdies and eagles when this big competition gets underway this weekend.
Just don’t expect many 5-irons.