Walker Cup: Winners and LosersSeptember, 2015
Who can be proud of their Walker Cup showing and who will have regrets?
GB&I secured the Walker Cup by their biggest-ever winning margin at Royal Lytham & St Annes with a 16.5-9.5 victory over their much-touted American counterparts.
Leading the team out for the third consecutive time, Nigel Edwards justified his continued selection by leading a team of young amateurs who ruthlessly blew away the Americans, despite starting the weekend as perceived underdogs.
But in the long run, who were the real winners and losers from the competition?
Winner: Jimmy Mullen
Royal North Devon’s Mullen wasn’t supposed to be the hero of Team GB&I. Ranked 94th in the world he was, on paper, the biggest risk for Nigel Edwards, who chose him based upon the strength of his partnership with Ashley Chesters.
For our player ratings for the rest of the GB&I Walker Cup team CLICK HERE
Edwards acknowledged the England international’s contribution to the cause and said: “He’s a great competitor and he’s proved that over the last three years. He loves the match play, the cut and thrust of match play. He forms a great partnership with Ashley [Chesters].”
Four wins out of four puts the 21-year-old in an exclusive group, as only the third player, along with Luke Donald and Paul Casey, to score a 4-0 record at a Walker Cup.
‘We play a lot together and practice a lot together’ Mullen won the Welsh Amateur Stroke Play Championship this year and has been a fixture of the England elite squad for several years. His success at the Walker Cup will be a great experience as he prepares to embark on a professional career.
Winner: The University of Stirling
Two of Team GB&I’s players knew each other better than most. Cormac Sharvin and Jack McDonald were roommates at the University of Stirling.
Sharvin said: “We play a lot together and practice a lot together so we know each other really well and know each other’s games really well so we gel pretty nicely.”
The duo are both products of the University’s International Sports Scholarship Programme which has seen four Stirling alumni previously represent GB&I at the Walker Cup.
For our report from the final day of the Walker Cup CLICK HERE
This theme continued throughout the team as, while the Americans were gathered from far and wide – Kentucky, California, North Carolina, Maryland and elsewhere – Team GB&I were formed by a group of players who knew each other really well.
There were rumours that initial Walker Cup pick Sam Horsfield – born in England but raised in America – dropped out of the team because he didn’t feel a part of the group when they met up ahead of the competition, but what is undeniable is that those remaining players formed an incredible bond which spurred them on to victory.
Winner: The R&A
The entry fee of £30 was pretty steep for an amateur event, especially as there were no superstar names really competing this time out. But the access given to supporters is unparalleled in the modern game and was reminiscent of years gone by.
You can’t help but enjoy the odd sight of a player having to make his way through the crowd and under the restraining rope to reach his ball, resting in the centre of the fairway.
Spectators – both young and old – find themselves within touching distance of the players and as such the Walker Cup could arguably do more to promote the game as an inclusive sport than more tightly-patrolled events such as the Open.
The same enjoyment of the event goes all the way up to the R&A, including outgoing chairman Peter Dawson who enjoyed himself by acting as the starter throughout the weekend and announcing the players on the first tee.
While the Open is restricted and by formalities and importance, you get the feeling the Walker Cup is an opportunity for everyone to enjoy themselves.
Loser: Jordan Niebrugge
At the Open in July Jordan Niebrugge announced himself to the world by winning the Silver Medal in record-breaking fashion. His score of 11-under was the lowest by an amateur in the tournament’s 144-year history.
This recent success over a links course in difficult conditions meant that arriving at the Walker Cup there was a lot of expectation on the Oklahoma State senior’s shoulders and, for the most part, he disappointed.
Admittedly, he had the toughest matches of any American, going up against Chesters, then Moynihan and then the pairing of Sharvin and McDonald, but it says a lot that not one of his matches went down the 18th hole.
“I just couldn’t get anything going,” he said. “I played well in the beginning and just left a couple of shots out there. I just gave too many holes away.”
With Bryson DeChambeau inexplicably asking to play last in the afternoon singles – effectively rendering his 6&5 victory over Moynihan pointless, the burden fell on Niebrugge to take the lead for the American team, and it was a test which Niebrugge failed.
Loser: Welsh amateurs
Captain Nigel Edwards won’t have shown it on the surface – his day job is performance director at England Golf after all – but there must have been a tinge of sadness that there were no Welshman in his team.
In fact, during his three terms as captain, the Cardiff, native has only chosen one Welsh player – Rhys Pugh in 2011 and 2013.
It’s a sad indictment of the Welsh game, especially when you consider we should now be seeing the legacy of the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, which was supposed to inspire a generation of young Welsh players.
Jamie Donaldson represented Wales at the Ryder Cup last year and Bradley Dredge is 96th in the Race to Dubai rankings, but the Golf Union of Wales has recognized the lack of Welsh talent coming through and launched its strategic vision to develop elite players from the grass roots level this year.
A small talent pool is blamed – but when the best player in the world is from Northern Ireland, which has half as many people, is that really a valid point?
Loser: The World Amateur Golf Rankings
As far as the WAGR rankings were concerned, this should have been an absolute walkover for the Americans.
The world’s top 10 features five players who represented Team USA, but just one from GB&I – Ashley Chesters, who arguably has only made his way that high in the rankings because he’s 26 years old and so has had enough time to settle into the rankings and work his way up.
Maybe it’s because world rankings have little impact in a matchplay setting, where players can influence their opponents, but the GB&I underdogs were able to dominate the Americans and scored a resounding victory.
WAGR coverage includes more than 4,100 ranking tournaments, but it may be time to shift the weighting away from American events to respect the improving standard of amateur golf on this side of the Atlantic.