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  • Alistair Tait

No Walkover Cup please

Get ready for the return of the Walkover Cup. That’s what the 48th biennial match between the United States and Great Britain & Ireland, otherwise known as the Walker Cup, will probably revert to should the contest go ahead as planned at Seminole Golf Club 8–9 May.

It won’t be a fair fight: GB&I is in no shape to take on a strong US side playing on home soil.

The postponement of the Home Internationals in April probably signalled the end of any hope GB&I had of trying to win back the trophy after two straight losses. The game’s best amateur team match is in danger of becoming a one-sided affair should the R&A and USGA decide to stage the contest.

Covid–19 has created havoc with all of golf, professional and amateur, but it’s been particularly damaging for amateur golf. Most of the Great Britain & Ireland squad are desperately short of competitive action. With the exception of squad members like 2019 GB&I players Alex Fitzpatrick and Sandy Scott and a few others who play college golf in the United States, most of GB&I players won’t have played many tournaments by the time they arrive in the salubrious surroundings of Juno Beach, South Florida. Meanwhile, the US team has enjoyed a far heavier schedule of competitive play, and will have a huge advantage.

The GB&I side was always going to be up against it considering the match is being played in May. The British and Irish season doesn’t start until then, so only those away on international duty were going to be match fit. Travel restrictions due to Covid–19, however, have scuppered the hopes of many GB&I squad members who had looked forward to getting their games ready with warm weather golf over the winter in Australia and South Africa. Meanwhile, the Home Internationals, originally scheduled for 14–16 April at Royal Dornoch, would have been a great chance to get in some competitive golf. It would also have been an opportunity for GB&I Walker Cup captain Stuart Wilson and his team of selectors not only to select the 10–man team, but cast their eyes over potential foursome’s pairings.

For many years, stronger American teams would simply turn up for the match and walk over weaker GB&I teams with ease. GB&I won just two matches – 1938 and 1971, both at St Andrews – between the inaugural 1922 contest and 1987. Another rare victory came in 1989 at Peachtree, Georgia followed by two more defeats. GB&I fortunes changed in the mid 1990s when the R&A started squad training sessions to prepare teams. Hence, GB&I won six matches between 1995–2015 to bring parity to the contest.

As amateur aficionados know, just one of those victories in that 20–year period came on American soil. The 2001 match at Ocean Forest Golf Club, Georgia stands out as the lone away win in those years, thanks to a strong side that included Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell (pictured), Nick Dougherty, Marc Warren, Nigel Edwards, and Gary Wolstenholme. Aside from a close contest in Chicago in 2005, recent GB&I teams have looked extremely uncomfortable playing on courses in the home of the brave and the land of the free tee. So triumphing on the tricky Donald Ross Seminole layout was always a big ask.

It’s an even bigger, probably insurmountable one now.

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers, new USGA boss Mike Whan, Wilson, US Captain Nathanial Crosby and all concerned need to set up an important video call to discuss this issue. It’s surely worth considering re-scheduling the contest for later this year given that GB&I will be hopelessly under prepared? The last thing we need is a mismatch in golf’s best amateur team contest. Tabloid newspapers would be preparing “Slaughter at Seminole” headlines if they paid any interest to amateur golf

Please, no return to the Walkover Cup.

#JustSaying: “Preparation is key. If you’re going to win away from home, you have to prepare properly.” Andy Ingram, who captained the losing 2017 GB&I team in Los Angeles

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