Ask many who’ve appeared in the Walker Cup and they’ll tell you it was the pinnacle of their time in amateur golf.
Truth is, for many it can be the highlight of their golf career.
Current Great Britain & Ireland captain Stuart Wilson knows that only too well. The Scot didn’t jump into the professional ranks after helping GB & I win the 2003 match at Ganton Golf Club in Yorkshire. Wilson also counts victories in the 2003 Lytham Trophy, 2004 Amateur Championship and three appearances in majors as the other great moments in his life in golf. Yet he had the good sense to take a realistic look at his game, knew he didn’t have the right stuff to make it on the European Tour and decided to remain a career amateur.
Perhaps others from the 2003 GB & I team would have been wise to do likewise.
Is that true for many of those players who played under Wilson at scary Seminole Golf Club in this most recent biennial match? More than likely.
Of the seven players who turned pro following that 2003 match, just one has found any real traction in the professional game. England’s Oliver Wilson (above) is the only player from that team to win on the European Tour. After nine runner-up finishes between 2006 and 2009, the former Augusta State player hit pay dirt when he held off former GB & I Walker Cuppers Tommy Fleetwood, Rory McIlroy, and Richie Ramsay to win the 2014 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews.
Wilson played in the 2008 Ryder Cup. He reached a career high of 35th on the Official World Golf Ranking in October 2009. He’s banked just over €7 million in European Tour earnings. He’s parlayed a successful Walker Cup into a successful professional career.
Not so for the rest of the class of ‘03.
That’s not surprising. All you have to do is look at Fleetwood’s teammates from the 2009 match. Fellow Englishman Chris Paisley is the only other player from that graduating class to have found real European Tour success. He won the 2018 BMW South African Open. He’s banked just over €3 million in prize money and is still competing against Fleetwood on the European Tour, albeit not at the same level.
Oliver Fisher made history in Chicago in 2005 when he became the youngest player to play in the Walker Cup. The Englishman is one of just three players from the eight who turned professional to win on the European Tour along with Ramsay and Welshman Rhys Davies.
Danny Willett hosts this week’s British Masters. He’s another who’s graduated from the Walker Cup to European Tour success. His crowning moment so far is his 2016 Masters win. Teammate Rory McIlroy’s exploits need no retelling. That class of ’07 at Royal County Down stands out since three other members of that team – the aforementioned Davies, David Horsey and John Parry – have also won on the European Tour.
English players Andy Sullivan, Tom Lewis and Steven Brown are the only three of the 10 to have won on the European Tour from the 2011 GB & I team.
The boys of ’13? Callum Shinkwin, Jordan Smith, and Matt Fitzpatrick are the only players to win on the European Tour since losing over the National Golf Links of America on Long Island. Of course, that match was only eight years ago; other team members still have time to impress in European golf.
Ditto for those who’ve played in subsequent teams between 2015 and this year. It’s too early to predicted how those classes will do, although Paul Dunne (2015) and Robert MacIntyre (2017) already count themselves European Tour winners.
However, for every GB & I player to go on and win on the European Tour, many crash and burn once they find themselves in the dog eat dog world of professional golf, where many couldn’t care less what they did in the amateur game. Indeed, quite a few Walker Cuppers gave up long ago on their dreams of winning major championship and are no longer suffering the nightmares of having to hit greens with 4-irons just to pay the bills.
Many can’t miss kids miss big time, and eventually find themselves in that dreaded “whatever happened to” category golf magazines are wont to run.
#JustSaying: “We all feel there is a formula for the model tour professional. I’ve been down that route and I know it’s actually rubbish.” Oliver Wilson