Why our Walker Cup stars need something to fall back on
by Colin Callander
This week GB&I will head to the Los Angeles Country Club with a Walker Cup team comprising 10 rookies.
Gone are the days when the likes of Joe Carr and Michael Bonallack could garner 19 Walker Cup appearances between them.
In the modern era, this biennial transatlantic contest has become a stepping stone into the professional ranks, although it is certainly not one which offers any guarantee of future success in the paid ranks.
Over the last three matches, GB&I have blooded no fewer than 28 different players and even the briefest of glances at that list shows that Walker Cup selection is not necessarily a passport to riches as a professional.
Far from it, in fact, at least in the majority of cases.
Among that group of 28 players, Andy Sullivan, Tom Lewis, Matt Fitzpatrick and, most recently, Jordan Smith are the only players to have gone on to win on the European Tour and of those only Sullivan, Fitzpatrick and Smith are guaranteed full playing privileges next season.
Special credit must also go to 2015 team member, Paul Dunne, whose second-place finish at the Trophy Hassan 11 had helped him to bank almost €600,000 by the second week in July.
Twenty-four-year-old Dunne is rapidly looking like one of the few exceptions that prove the rule.
It is probably too early to write off the prospects of the majority of the Irishman’s 2015 team-mates Ashley Chesters, Ewen Ferguson, Grant Forrest, Jack Hume, Gary Hurley, Jack McDonald, Gavin Moynihan, Jimmy Mullen and Cormac Sharvin but the scale of the task they face is illustrated by how hard the majority of members of the 2011 and 2013 teams have had to work to achieve even a semblance of security on the Tour.
Fitzpatrick apart, the best placed of the 2013 team are probably Nathan Kimsey, Max Orrin, Callum Shinkwin and Jordan Smith, although of that group only Smith currently holds down a place within the top 100 in the Tour’s Race to Dubai.
Smith may indeed be the perfect role model for future Walker Cup players to follow.
Things started badly for him as a professional when he missed out on a card for both the European and Challenge Tours at Q-School but he bounced back by finishing No 1 on the 2015 EuroPro Tour Order of Merit before winning twice in 2016 on his way to securing top spot on the Challenge Tour money list. This year the former Brabazon Trophy winner has continued to progress on the main tour.
He already has a third-place finish to his name at the BMW Open and a tie for sixth at the Qatar Masters. With over €500,000 banked after finishing 20th at the Irish Open, his future is looking increasingly secure.
Success sometimes comes to those who wait.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said so far for most of the winning team from the Class of 2011 whose career prospects looked so bright after they produced a surprise victory over an American team including Patrick Cantlay, Harris English, Russell Henley, Patrick Rodgers, Jordan Spieth and Peter Uihlein at Royal Aberdeen.
On that occasion, the then captain, Nigel Edwards, reserved particular praise for Welshman Rhys Pugh. He and Ireland’s Gavin Moynihan are the only two GB&I players to have played twice in the last three matches.
“Wales has a special one in Rhys,” he suggested after his compatriot had contributed a maximum three points in his three matches over the weekend.
“I never worried about him. I played foursomes with him in the Welsh team and he has pulled me out of trouble loads of times. He is a great talent.”
Sadly, that talent has yet to be fulfilled, with nine cuts in 16 starts on last year’s EuroPro Tour.
Similarly, team-mates Steven Brown, James Byrne, Paul Cutler, Alan Dunbar, Stiggy Hodgson, Jack Senior and Michael Stewart have also struggled to make the big time despite showing such promise as amateurs.
It is against this background that this year’s 10 rookies will be endeavouring to give GB&I an eighth wins in the last 15 Walker Cups before following their predecessors into the paid ranks.
Expect most of them to switch straight after their return from America with the remainder following sooner rather than later. That is what happens these days.
So, is there any way to tell how many of the team will make the grade at professional level and, if so, who they will be? The answer to the first question is no, although recent history suggests it will be no more than two or three.
As to who, it is impossible to discern a pattern.
Some players who you expect to make it, don’t. Others, who you think won’t, do. It is the same in the aftermath of every match. This year to date, the most consistent two performers on the amateur circuit were not even part of the original Walker Cup squad when it was announced earlier this year.
Jack Singh Brar started the season with a second place finish in the Avondale Medal in Australia, won the Lytham Trophy, finished second at the Brabazon and seventh at the European Amateur before crossing the Atlantic to head the field at US Amateur Qualifying at Paramount Country Club, New York.
His fellow Englishman, Matthew Jordon, has been equally impressive notching a win in the St Andrews Links Trophy, a second-place finish at the Scottish Stroke Play, a tie for fourth at the Irish Stroke Play, a fifth place at the Brabazon and a sixth at the European Amateur.
Both their records suggest they can step up a level but then the same thing can be said for British champion Harry Ellis, European champion Alfie Plant, Scott Gregory, Robert MacIntyre, Connor Syme and the others who make the side.
All got there on merit, but that does not mean they will all kick on to bigger, and better, things. There are far too many imponderables involved to be certain who will succeed.
You need luck and well as talent. Lots of it, too, which is why no young player, no matter how gifted, should contemplate the switch without having something else to fall back on.
That is common sense, really, but it is amazing how often it is overlooked when dreams overtake reality.