Sep
11
2011
GB&I Team Takes Walker Cup 14-12
By Stephanie Wei under Amateur Golf

The victorious Great Britain & Ireland team capture the Cup

With the US Open tennis and NFL’s opening weekend, I’m not sure how many of you kept up with the Walker Cup, contested at Royal Aberdeen in Scotland. From what I saw in the highlights on Golf Central, I wish I’d caught more of the coverage, or heck, been at the matches.

The underdog Great Britain & Ireland squad prevailed against the strong American team 14-12 and won the Cup for the first time since 2003. With a two-point advantage going into Sunday, GB&I dominated in the morning foursome matches to take a 10 1/2 – 5  1/2 lead, heading into the afternoon singles matches.

While the Americans staged a respectable surge in the singles, it wasn’t enough to overcome the five-point deficit, but they sure made things more intriguing (or nerve-wracking) near the end. (In other words, sounds like things aren’t that different at the pro level — GB&I does better in foursomes and Americans dominate in singles.)

The US team entered the Cup as the strong favorites with six players ranked top ten in the world — Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Rodgers, Peter Uihlein, Harris English and Chris Williams. Meanwhile, GB&I’s best were Andy Sullivan and Tom Lewis at world Nos. 5 and 7 respectively.

But in links golf, don’t underestimate the underdog. GB&I had home-course advantage and more experience playing in the blustery conditions.

Let’s check out accounts from reporters on the scene. First, Golf Digest‘s Ryan Herrington explores why the heavily favored Americans struggled:

“We’re all kind of scratching our heads on that,” said Nathan Smith when asked to put his finger on why the Americans struggled for most of the two-day event, one in which they seemed to be heavy favorites to win. The U.S. boasted eight players ranked in the top 20 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, including six in the top 10. Conversely, GB&I had only four in the top 20 and just two (Andy Sullivan and Tom Lewis) in the top 10.

A variety of factors, however, seemed to swing in the favor of the home side, starting with their comfort in playing a links-style course in front of a fair but supportive crowd. Only once since 1995 had the American team won on foreign soil.

Another intangible that worked in the GB&I’s favor was the fickle weather. Saturday’s play including intermittent rain and strong gusts from along the North Sea. Sunday lacked the precipitation, but included even stronger winds that made shot selection and trajectory tricky.

“I really think the difference was the conditions,” Holtgrieve said. “Even though my guys have played in windy conditions, I’m just not sure that on the conditions like they were today, it does take some time to get used to those conditions. … I just think being around these conditions as much as [the GB&I team is] might have given them a little edge.”

Golfweek’s Alistair Tait writes that GB&I never considered themselves underdogs:

Edwards told his players to ignore the world rankings. “The match isn’t played on paper.”

“Did I expect to be sat here winning?” Edwards said. “Absolutely. 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. They are very special and they proved that this week.”

Scotland’s Michael Stewart agreed.

“I don’t think at any point we were underdogs no,” he said. “It didn’t really make a difference to us. We didn’t really pay much attention to what was written. Nigel just let us go about our own business. We just focused on us and at the end of the week it paid off.”

Home-course advantage helped the GB&I team. So did the weather. Every major amateur tournament in the British Isles this summer has been plagued by bad weather. No wonder the home team welcomed the strong winds that buffeted the ancient Balgownie Links on the final day.

The Daily Mail’s Derek Lawrenson says the loss highlighted the weaknesses of American golf:

As good as the home side were, it has to be said they were helped by some clueless golf from a number of the visitors. They might be great players with the sun on their backs and the requirement is to hit high shots to dartboard greens. But some of their attempts to cope with the admittedly treacherous wind that fortified this sublime links all weekend were pitiful.

It underlined the one-dimensional nature of so much American golf and how harmful it is to its leading players when they are asked to leave their comfort zone.

They were not quick about it either. Peter Uihlein and Patrick Cantlay appear destined for successful professional careers but the pleasure at watching them here was tempered by how slowly they went about their business. In inclement conditions, you’d have thought they would have wanted to get a move on, wouldn’t you?

An interesting aside — maybe the Americans and GB&I should read the rules more carefully…via the Guardian:

Britain and Ireland hold a 7-5 lead over the American favourites after the first day of the Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen – although their lead might have been reduced after Jack Senior was found to have played with a professional golfer as his caddy, which is not allowed.

Senior teamed up with fellow Englishman Andy Sullivan to beat American champion Kelly Kraft and Russell Henley, but it then emerged that his caddie, his brother Joe, is a professional golfer, which is not allowed under Walker Cup rules.

That could have turned a 3-1 lunchtime lead into 2-2 if the game had been awarded to the visitors, but it was decided that because it came to light after the completion of the match the result would stand.

While Senior teed off again with a different caddie, Royal and Ancient Club chief executive Peter Dawson said: “We are quite satisfied there was no advantage gained and the US captain [Jim Holtgrieve] was the first to say that.

“It’s been in the rules of the competition for a long, long time, but Jack was unaware.”

Golfweek’s Sean Martin points out a highlight on the American side:

Jordan Spieth was one of the last players picked for the U.S. Walker Cup team but he’s emerging as one of his team’s few bright spots in this rout.

Spieth, the only undefeated American (1-0-1), is 2 up through six holes against Andy Sullivan in Sunday’s singles session. Sullivan, at No. 5 in the R&A’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, is Great Britain & Ireland’s top-ranked player.

Spieth provided the United States’ one highlight in the morning foursomes, holing an 18-foot par putt to win the final hole and halve his match. It was the only point the United States earned in the session.

Spieth beat Jack Senior, 3 and 2, in Saturday singles. Spieth’s victory wasn’t just revenge – Senior beat Spieth in the U.S. Amateur quarterfinals – but it was the most lopsided result of a tight singles session. Senior is No. 11 in the R&A ranking.

There have been several half-joking comments that the American loss is a harbinger for the future of American golf — which is totally unfair — you can’t judge a group of players based on their performance in a matchplay format on a links style course and in a team competition, no less. Can’t blame the Americans for lack of experience on that type of track, either. We have “links inspired” courses in the United States, but that’s not real links golf in Scotland.

Well played by the lads on both squads. From what I’ve read, it sounds like a great display of sportsmanship and competition from both sides.