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How Austin Greaser’s place in Walker Cup almost didn’t happen

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Mike McCoy appreciated Austin Greaser’s honesty. When the U.S. Walker Cup captain called the North Carolina senior last December to extend him an invitation to the 16-man practice session in Jupiter, Florida, Greaser politely declined, explaining that he was planning on turning pro after the NCAA Championship and didn’t want to take a spot from an American hopeful.

“I was proud of him,” McCoy said, “but then as the year went on, his feelings began to change a little bit.”

Earlier this year, Greaser seemed destined to make the jump to the professional ranks this summer. He already had a runner-up finish at the U.S. Amateur (2021) and victory at the Western Amateur (2022) under his belt, and he sat firmly in the mix to earn Korn Ferry Tour status via PGA Tour University. Surely, he had lucrative endorsement deals waiting for him, too, though NIL has helped negate some of that enticement for today’s college stars.

But with an extra year of eligibility at his disposal because of the pandemic and a nagging left-wrist injury muddying his immediate outlook, Greaser decided last spring that he’d return to Chapel Hill for a fifth season this fall, getting not only one more crack at an NCAA Championship but also a chance to make a U.S. Walker Cup team – and some time to get healthy before playing for checks.

“I felt like there were several decisions to make regarding that, turning pro or staying amateur,” Greaser explained. “But [playing the Walker Cup] was definitely a big one. To me, it feels like I have the rest of my life to play professional golf, and I had this one opportunity to be a part of a Walker Cup team. Not only that, but to do it at St. Andrews right on the 100th centennial … it was just something I just didn’t really want to pass up, and I’m already happy even before it’s started that I made this decision.”

When he notified McCoy of his change of heart, however, it wasn’t a certainty that Greaser would be selected. His wrist issue, which required a minor procedure in early February, had plagued his game, and he beat just two players at the ACC Championship before gutting out impressive T-11 showings at regionals and nationals. Still, the pain wasn’t going away, and Greaser had surgery scheduled for June 12 in New York City, two days after the Arnold Palmer Cup.

When Greaser showed up for pre-op, a last-minute MRI caused his doctor to reconsider the surgery.

“Fortunately, we were able to figure out a different path with time off and some anti-inflammatory stuff,” said Greaser, who took seven weeks off before returning to action at the KFT’s NV5 Invitational in late July near Chicago. “Such a blessing. I mean, standing here now, thinking back, I can’t even believe I was contemplating playing or not.”

McCoy flew in to watch Greaser play the KFT event, where Greaser missed the cut despite shooting 70-69. He then saw Greaser turn in a respectable T-51 finish at the Western Amateur before the Tar Heel really shook off the rust at the U.S. Amateur, where he punched his match-play ticket at Cherry Hills with an even-par showing in stroke play and then waxed Oklahoma State’s Jonas Baumgartner, 6 and 4, in the Round of 64.

Greaser’s U.S. Amateur run ended a round later with a 3-and-2 loss to LSU’s Connor Gaunt, but Greaser had done enough to warrant a nod from the USGA’s selection committee.

“We know what a competitor he is,” McCoy said. “We’ve seen him play for the last few years. Great match-play competitor. We really wanted him, and he earned the spot. He played well, and I was happy to see that. He had to lay off for some time to let his wrist heal. … I flew in and watched him [in Chicago], and I was happy to see he wasn’t favoring his wrist, and over the last three or four weeks, he looks like the old Austin.”

When McCoy finished, Greaser blushed a little. He feels like the old Austin, too, and though he’ll sit the opening foursomes session on Saturday, he’s anxious to get going in Saturday singles.

“We just talked about it an hour ago in the team room, we’re all starting to feel the nervousness, but it’s all positive,” Greaser said.

Like horses champing at the bit in the starting gates at Churchill Downs, which is less than three hours south of where Greaser is from, Vandalia, Ohio.

“They kind of just put us in our slot,” Greaser added, “and they’re getting ready to open the doors.”

After all that’s unfolded this past year, Greaser is happy to be one of the 10 Americans running through them.