- Alistair Tait
A Walker Cup What If.....
What an impressive performance by Great Britain & Ireland in the 48th Walker Cup. Let’s take nothing away from the United States. Nathanial Crosby’s side deserved to win, but it’s hard not to look at the competition over two days and think: What if?
That Great Britain & Ireland limited the U.S. victory to two points speaks volumes for the talent and strength of amateur golf in Great Britain & Ireland, especially when the GB & I team was up against it in so many ways. As Jim Nugent writes in Global Golf Post.
“The golf gods threw everything they had at the Great Britain & Ireland squad at the 2021 Walker Cup.
“A worldwide pandemic that trapped half the team at home, locked out of preparing properly for this storied international competition. The loss of its best player, Sandy Scott, ahead of the match due to a wrist injury. A mysterious stomach virus that left some of team members drained and dealing with wobbly legs. A fiery golf course that not even a violent thunderstorm on Thursday could tame.
"And yet, the lads from GB & I distinguished themselves and left it all on the golf course.”
There’s no telling what the outcome would have been if GB & I team members and potential team members had been able to prepare properly.
Joe Long, who won the Amateur Championship at Royal Birkdale last year, played just one competitive tournament in the lead up to this year’s Walker Cup. Two rounds at Augusta in the Masters was his preparation. He also had to sit out the first three session due to that mysterious stomach virus, yet he somehow managed to win his singles contest against world number four John Pak.
Matty Lamb, Ben Schmidt (above), Ben Jones, and Jack Dyer were in the same boat as Long by not getting nearly as much preparation time as their Walker Cup teammates ensconced in college golf. Ireland’s Caolan Rafferty, GB & I’s third highest ranked player on the WAGR table at 21st and a member of the 2019 team, didn’t make this year’s side. His preparation was severely hit because of Covid-19. There’s a chance the Irishman might have made this Walker Cup if he’d been able to prepare properly. Ditto for other members of the original GB & I squad from which the 10-man team was selected.
“I feel like we really bonded well throughout the week, just like some great team morale,” Long said. “We had some great advice from Paul McGinley. We just felt great out there. We’d done some great prep, and we just kind of gave it our all.”
Contrast GB & I’s preparation with that of Crosby’s side, one of the strongest ever assembled. All of his team were able to play a healthy schedule. While Long and company were sitting at home twiddling their thumbs, the Cole Hammers and Ricky Castillos and the other eight U.S. team members were sharpening their games in preparation for scary Seminole Golf club.
No wonder on paper it looked like a walkover cup was in the offing. Once again, just as well Walker Cups aren’t played on paper. Ditto for Curtis, Ryder, Solheim and even PGA Cups.
It proves we shouldn’t pay too much attention to world rankings when predicting the outcomes of such matches, especially in 18-hole match play when anything can happen, and probably will. Remember Gary Wolstenholme and Tiger Woods?
The World Amateur Golf Ranking is a good system but, as four-time player and three-time GB & I captain Nigel Edwards is on record as saying, it favours American amateurs because of the college golf system.
No wonder GB & I captain Stuart Wilson was effusive in his praise for his players:
“They did everything I asked of them this week, and I am very, very proud of them,” he said.
As he should be.
Nugent hit the hail on the head when he ended his Walker Cup story with the words:
“The GB&I squad does leave with their heads held high, but wondering, ‘what if?’”
Roll on St Andrews and the 49th Walkover Cup.
#JustSaying: “Out of the shadows come heroes.” Sam Torrance
Photograph by Chris Keane courtesy of the USGA