Courtesy: North Carolina A&T
GREENSBORO – Two 20-somethings, Zachary Groce and his golfing buddy, North Carolina A&T men’s golfer Drew Walker, drove to Charleston, WVa., this week for the chance of a lifetime. Much needed to go right for that chance to become reality, and it did for Mr. Walker.
On Wednesday, Walker received news that he had qualified for the 123rd U.S. Amateur golf tournament starting Monday, August 14, and concluding on Sunday, August 20, at the Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills Village, Colo., a suburb of Denver. Walker leaves on a flight to Colorado on Friday.
“I’m over the clouds excited,” Walker said.
A grand portion of Walker’s excitement stems from him being a long shot at qualifying on and off the course. Walker and his driving companion were just two of nearly 8,000 players vying for 312 qualifying spots at the U.S. Amateur.
Those odds alone are daunting. But those odds became longer when Walker shot a first-round even par 71 on the 7,006-yard Edgewood Country Club golf course.
Therefore, Walker, 20, needed to play the round of his young life over the next 18 holes even to become an alternate, let alone qualify.
“The first round was one of those rounds where I was making some good shots, so it looked like I was going to play well,” said Drew Walker. “I was 2-under going into the back nine, but I made a couple of costly bogeys down the stretch with a couple of three putts that put me back to even par.”
Then came his second 18. Walker shot 3-under on the front nine to start his miraculous run toward the U.S. Amateur. But another costly three-putt on No. 10 led to another bogey, putting him at 2-under for the round. That is where Walker stood going into the final five holes of his round.
Fortunately, two of those holes were par 5s that bowed to Walker’s will, including the par-5 14th. Walker birdied the 14th before birdieing the par-4 15th to move to 4-under. The 16th was a 560-yard par 5. Walker reached the green in two strokes before facing an 85-foot eagle putt.
“I drained it,” said Walker, adding that the biggest putt of his life moved him to 6-under for the round. The putt also put him in contention to qualify for the U.S. Amateur. He needed a birdie putt on 18 to qualify but parred the hole to finish Round 2 with a 6-under 65.
All was not lost, however. Walker’s second round led to him playing in a four-hole playoff to become a first alternate if one of the U.S. Amateur qualifiers could not make the tournament. Walker’s day of training big-time putts kept going as he won the four-hole playoff with a birdie on the final hole. Good fortune kept coming Walker’s way as a qualifier did drop out, leaving him with a flight to Colorado.
“The day felt like a Rory McIlroy run on a Sunday,” said Walker.
The first two days of the U.S. Amateur will be stroke play. The top 64 players from those first two days will advance to match play until a champion is determined on Sunday.
“I’m on cloud nine,” said Walker. “I’m prepared for this moment, so the only thing left is to go out and do my best.”
Drew Walker had a tremendous freshman season. During the 2023 spring semester, Walker shot par or under par in eight straight rounds to break the program record. He had the best team stroke average on the season at 73.1.
“I felt like I was getting my feet wet in Division I in the fall. It was a little bit of a struggle. But I think I found myself in the spring. I worked diligently on my craft, and I was just blessed.”
And the blessings haven’t stopped yet.
North Carolina A&T is located on the east side of Greensboro, N.C., where many innovative and economic impacts occur for the entire city. North Carolina A&T Athletics embraces the principles of competitive excellence, sportsmanship, diversity, ethical conduct, and amateurism while facilitating the academic objectives of the student-athletes; the department complies with all conference and association rules and regulations and ensures equal opportunity and access for all students and staff who desire to associate with intercollegiate athletics without regard for race, color, national origin, gender, age, disability, or religion.