Walker Cup: We speak to GB&I captain Nigel Edwards

We speak to GB&I captain Nigel Wedwards, who has been charged with retaining the cup

In Nigel Edwards we have one of the really good guys. The Welshman will always find time for a chat and then intersperse it with a few laughs. His attention to detail is also extraordinary, in the course of our conversation I mention a friend who will have been on, to put it kindly, the outer fringes of Edwards’ England squad. He then listed where and when he had seen him hit balls on a practice range.
“He didn’t know I was watching him, but I was.”

Two years ago the four-time player played a huge part in Great Britain & Ireland’s first win since 2003. Not many gave his side much of a chance, Edwards’ belief never waivered.
“I had had a quiet look at the things people had said and written, but I told the boys from the outset that they did not need worry about anyone else. All they needed to do was focus on themselves and they are very special and they proved that. They did a great credit for themselves and their families and their countries.”

After a few minutes in his company anyone would want to play for Edwards, something that should, hopefully, become apparent this month.      

How hard was it to decide on the final team?

The four selectors agreed at the European Team Championships on at least seven, if not eight, very probables on the team.
The reserves will be very disappointed and I feel for them. Greg Eason was a first-team All American college player and clearly plays well over there.

Ryan Evans has come such a long way, last winter he was in England’s development squad and last summer he won the South of England, then this year he was second in the St Andrews Links, won the Berkshire and Biarritz Open, tied second at the South of England and won five out of six at the Home Internationals.
You would love to have 12 players on the team.

There are no Scots in the squad, obviously there is no room for sentiment?

You have to pick the best team, simple as that. When I took the job I said I don’t mind if we have 10 Scots, 10 Irish, 10 Welsh or 10 English, as long as we get the job done. We’re not looking for sentiment, we want players who are performing.

How much of a boost is it to have the new US Amateur champion Matt Fitzpatrick in there?

It is tremendous. Two years ago Jack Senior got to the semi-finals and Neil Raymond was the medalist in qualifying this year and Matt Fitzpatrick’s performance was outstanding. Having him on the team adds a real bit of gold dust there.

I didn’t know whether to ring him during the US Amateur but did and rang on the Friday night and I knew straightaway that I had done the right thing. He had the semi-final the next day but he was very calm and was delighted at the news. He was always going to be in the team whether he won or lost.

This year the squad didn’t meet up beforehand, how has that affected your preparations?

Basically all the players were all over the place with tournaments. We did think about taking them to America but the only free week was Open Championship week.
We’ll go on August 29 and we’ll be having a special few days as we’re going to Pine Valley, Bayonne in New York Harbour and also Shinnecock before getting to the National Links.
Two years ago the four-time player played a huge part in Great Britain & Ireland’s first win since 2003. Not many gave his side much of a chance, Edwards’ belief never waivered.

What particular events do you pay close attention to?

All the major British amateur events so that’s the Lytham Trophy, all the national amateur titles, St Andrews Links, British Amateur, European Team Championships, the European individual, the US Amateur and finally the Home Internationals.

You are also looking at the St Andrews Trophy team from last year and the other events from last year and you’re looking for players with great attitudes and great short games. And those who, when they get the chance, can win.

In all team events everyone talks about holing putts as being the key, will you be focusing on this particularly?

I can’t stress enough how much attention we’ll pay to the short game and the greens there will be that much quicker. A lot of our players will have played in the US Amateur so that will help.

Have you got an idea in your head about pairings?

You are looking for partnerships that have worked well before and players who get on well together. In 2011 Rhys Pugh ended up with James Byrne and they are very different characters and that worked really well so it’s not a science. I will ask all the players who they might not want to play with and that will go no further.
A lot of them say I don’t mind but you try and squeeze a bit more out of them.

You played on four Walker Cup teams and are a career amateur. Will you make sure your players are all aware of the great history of this event?

It’s very important to get over the profile and history of the competition. You saw last time how many hours the last matches had on the BBC and it’s a great opportunity for them to be part of the history.
The Walker Cup is a great event; look at the 2011 matches where the Americans had Harrison English, Russell Henley and Jordan Spieth and they have all now won on the PGA Tour.
The players need to understand and respect the competition, and they do, and they understand it’s being a part of a winning team.

How easy is it to go from being a player to being the captain?

I haven’t got to hit a shot! My role is to help create an atmosphere to get the most out of the players. It is very easy to get caught up in what is going on as it is so different to any other week.
I feel like I’ve got a close enough relationship with the players without being too close as, ultimately, I’ve got to pick a team. For the first three parts of the match two players will be rested so you have to manage that and the different personalities.

How tough is that?

I try and let them know that there are some things that they need to buy into and that any decision has been made for the benefit of the team. It was difficult not to pick Rhys Pugh and James Byrne for the first series of foursomes in Aberdeen and they proved why that was but they always got behind the team. If they’re not a team then we won’t win.
The ideal is to get everyone out on the first day, players haven’t got on the team to sit on the sidelines.

What do you know of the course and the opposition?

It is a second-shot course, the greens are slopey and quick so approach shots need to be very accurate. It is not a massively long course and there should be plenty of birdies.
It didn’t play like a links when I was there but I suspect the greens will be firm and it’s a great venue.

We can’t control what the Americans are doing and, if we look after ourselves, then we’ll be just fine out there. It will be a huge challenge but we have the makings of an excellent team. It was great that England and Scotland were in the final of the European Team championships.

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