Mission impossible for GB&I?
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
Alex Fitzpatrick and Sandy Scott will spearhead Great Britain & Ireland’s hopes of winning the Walker Cup at Seminole Golf Club 8-9 of May. They are the only two players to make the GB&I 10-man team from the side that lost the 2019 match at Royal Liverpool.
GB&I is looking to win the cup for the first time since the 2015 match at Royal Lytham.
Unsurprisingly, GB&I captain Stuart Wilson and his team of selectors have chosen six players who compete on the ultra-competitive U.S. college golf circuit. That’s not surprising given Covid-19 has played havoc with the preparations of many squad members for the match in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Those squad players lucky enough to play in the college system have seen far more action than their GB&I based counterparts, since college golf has been least affected by Covid-19. Home based players have been dealt an unfair hand because of travel restrictions. Most haven’t had the opportunity to show their stuff to the selectors.
Lack of preparation is why the R&A petitioned the USGA to postpone the match to a later date. Sources tell me the USGA was willing to budge, but allegedly host venue Seminole balked at the idea. Too bad, GB&I is at a serious disadvantage going into this match.
Nairn member Scott is the lone Scottish player this year. He had been a serious doubt for the match because of a wrist injury and lacks competitive action as a result. Wilson will be hoping Scott can replicate the form that helped win two and a half points out of four two years ago. He and England’s Tom Sloman were the only players to win their final singles match at Royal Liverpool in an 8-2 drubbing in the final session that cost GB&I victory.
For the second consecutive match, there are no Welsh players. Ireland has two representatives in Mark Power and John Murphy.
Fitzpatrick, younger brother of five-time European Tour winner Matt Fitzpatrick, recently celebrated his first college victory when he won the Valspar Collegiate. Six other Englishmen in Barclay Brown, Angus Flanagan, Ben Jones, Matty Lamb, Joe Long and Ben Schmidt fill out the team.
It is the first time seven Englishmen have made the team since the 2013 match at the National Golf Links on Long Island, when GB&I failed to defend the trophy it won in 2011. Matt Fitzpatrick was a member of that side.
Power and Fitzpatrick play for Wake Forest; Scott attends Texas Tech; Brown is a Stanford student; Murphy is at Louisville; while Flanagan studies at the University of Minnesota.
Long (pictured) makes the team courtesy of winning last year’s Amateur Championship at Royal Birkdale. He’ll make his Masters debut before teeing it up at Seminole. Jones, Lamb and Schmidt are all in the England men’s team with Long. Schmidt is arguably the strongest of the four. In 2019, he won the double of the English Open Stroke Play and English Boys Open Stroke Play Championships, and many felt he should have been on the 2019 team. Instead, he was first reserve, with Jones named as second reserve.
There is no place on the team for Ireland’s Caolan Rafferty even though he played in the last Walker Cup, and is the third highest ranked GB&I player on the World Amateur Golf Ranking at 23rd. Only Scott and Fitzpatrick sit higher on the WAGR table than the Dundalk amateur.
Nor is there a place for in form Jack Dyer. The Englishman has been made first reserve despite recently fighting his way through to the final of the South African Amateur Championship. So much for recent match play form coming into the minds of the selectors.
GB&I face a mammoth task. No GB&I team has won away from home since 2001, when a side featuring Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Nick Dougherty, Marc Warren, Michael Hoey, Nigel Edwards and Gary Wolstenholme won at Ocean Forest Golf Club in Sea Island, Georgia. Visiting teams have not put up much of a fight on away soil since 2005 at Chicago Golf Club, when the USA eked out a one-point win.In the three away matches since then, GB&I have lost by an aggregate 52.5–25.5, including two consecutive 19-7 drubbings.
Donald Ross designed Seminole course is where Ben Hogan used to practise for the Masters. Quick, sloping greens will favour a far stronger U.S. side, which includes the current world number one in Davis Thompson, and two previous number ones in and Cole Hammer and Ricky Castillo. Hammer is one of three players returning to the U.S. team who triumphed at Royal Liverpool, including John Pak and two-time Walker Cupper Stewart Hagestad.
Moreover, all 10 U.S. players are inside the WAGR top 25, while the GB&I team ranges from eighth to 134th.
Walker cups are not played on paper, but GB&I looks to be up against it in its bid to stop a third consecutive U.S. win.
Is it mission impossible for the GB&I team?
The 2021 GB&I team
Barclay Brown (20), Hallamshire, England, WAGR – 134
Alex Fitzpatrick (22), Hallamshire, England, WAGR – 14
Angus Flanagan (21), St George's Hill, England, WAGR – 40
Ben Jones (21), Northamptonshire, England, WAGR – 41
Matty Lamb (23), Hexham, England, WAGR – 85
Joe Long (23), Lansdown, England, WAGR – 48
John Murphy (22), Kinsale, Ireland, WAGR – 99
Mark Power (20), Kilkenny, Ireland, WAGR – 29
Ben Schmidt (18), Rotherham, England, WAGR – 31
Sandy Scott (22), Nairn, Scotland, WAGR – 8
#JustSaying: “A good player who is a great putter is a match for any golfer. A great hitter who cannot putt is a match for no one.” Ben Sayers
Photo by Getty Images courtesy of the R&A