By Alistair Tait
ABERDEEN, Scotland – There are just three days until the 43rd Walker Cup, when the U.S. will attempt to win the Cup for a fourth consecutive time to add to an already impressive 34-7-1 record in the biennial match.
The Great Britain & Ireland team, under the captaincy of four-time Walker Cupper Nigel Edwards, is desperate to arrest U.S. dominance.
Hopefully it all augurs well for a tense, exciting match. Here are five things to watch from this week’s action at Royal Aberdeen.
1.) The golf course: Royal Aberdeen is almost as quintessential a links as you’ll find. The front nine plays through towering dunes that funnel the fairways towards the green, giving the feeling that there’s very little landing area on tee shots. The back nine isn’t as pretty but just as challenging, with the 18th providing a good finish.
Since the main amateur tournaments in the British Isles are contested on links, it would seem a fair conclusion to say the home team will have the advantage. However, the U.S. team has been here since Sept. 2 and already has had its fill of links golf with rounds at St Andrews, Kingsbarns and Royal Aberdeen. These players will have played the course a few times before the match starts and should be fairly comfortable around this track.
GB&I should be more at home on the golf course, but only slightly. The U.S. players are too good not to adapt to links golf.
2.) The weather: The weather is very changeable in this part of the world. Saturday’s original forecast called for heavy rain but has since changed to light rain showers. Don’t be surprised if we get some heavy downpours. That should suit GB&I better since playing in rain is part and parcel of British and Irish golf. No rain checks over here, folks. Golf clubs would go bust if they handed out those.
3.) Foursomes: If GB&I is to win back the Cup, then history says it has to win the foursomes sessions. GB&I has come out on top in the foursomes in six of the seven times they have won the event.
In 42 previous matches, GB&I has only won the foursomes nine times and trails the U.S. by 83-149 in that format, with 28 halves. It’s a strange record considering that foursomes golf is a familiar format to British and Irish players. Most team events consist of what the U.S. calls the alternate shot format.
4.) A U.S. leader: Peter Uihlein and Nathan Smith are the only two returnees from the 2009 victory at Merion, so U.S. captain Jim Holtgrieve might be expected to look to those two as his on-course leaders. He’ll be hoping Uihlein can lead by example. The Oklahoma State player won all four matches at Merion two years ago and should see action in all four sessions this year.
5.) A GB&I leader: Stiggy Hodgson is the only survivor from Merion. He was the bright spark in a lackluster GB&I performance, winning two points out of four. He is one potential leader on the GB&I team.
Tom Lewis has the most stature on the GB&I team considering his exploits at the Open Championship at Royal St George’s, when he was joint leader after the opening round and went on to win the silver medal as low amateur.
James Byrne is another potential team leader. The former Arizona State player hails from nearby Banchory, just 20 miles from Royal aAberdeen, so he knows the golf course well. He also has the confidence and the presence to exert some influence amongst his teammates.
Scotland’s Michael Stewart is another who isn’t short on confidence. So Edwards has a few good men he can call on if he needs players to act as on-course captains.
It should prove to be an intriguing week.