2019 WALKER CUP
Hoylake Could Provide Home Advantage for GB&I
September 4, 2019 | Hoylake, England
By Declan McGlinley, The R&A
Home is where the heart is. It’s the place where you hold the deepest affection, where you often feel most comfortable and relaxed. It’s certainly true of the Walker Cup in recent times.
Home comforts have proved valuable assets, a familiarity with the venue breeding success. Not since the United States of America edged a tight contest at Royal County Down in 2007 have a visiting team emerged victorious.
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Delving further into the history books, there have only been two away wins in the biennial encounter dating back to 1993. It’s been an impressive period of home supremacy, certainly familiar to those of a local football persuasion given Liverpool’s recent dominance at Anfield.
The links effect
As Great Britain and Ireland looks to continue the home trend and bounce back after a 19-7 defeat at Los Angeles Country Club two years ago, the hosts will hope the links effect is again a factor at Royal Liverpool.
Craig Watson’s team have been regular visitors to Hoylake, seeking the edge in their bid to reclaim the famous trophy at the spiritual home of the Walker Cup. After all, a first transatlantic match took place between the countries in 1921 at Hoylake, sowing the seeds for the first official Walker Cup Match a year later.
“The course is in lovely condition and I can’t wait for this to start,” said James Sugrue, the Amateur champion after his own memorable win on home soil in front of 3,000 spectators at Portmarnock in June.
“I think we have a little bit of an advantage on the Americans because we have played Hoylake regularly. We obviously play a lot of links courses and it could be a new thing to them. Hopefully the wind blows a bit and we get a little English weather.”
Weather a factor
Back in 2011 at Royal Aberdeen, the conditions did play their part. The foundations for an impressive victory over an American side containing the top four amateurs in the world were laid in a windswept Sunday morning session when GB&I came within a putt of a clean sweep of foursomes victories.
It was a certain Jordan Spieth, a future Champion Golfer, who holed from 16 feet to claim an unlikely half point for the USA in that foursomes tussle but it failed to deny Nigel Edwards’ side an overall 14-12 win.
Just as they had done at Merion in 2009, the USA registered another comfortable win at the National Golf Links of America in 2013, with Justin Thomas notably unbeaten in his three matches.
Still, Edwards dusted himself down and delivered another home triumph at Royal Lytham & St Annes two years later, this time by a 16½-9½ margin and a best-ever points tally.
Three Scotsmen were involved in that success – Grant Forrest, Ewen Ferguson and Jack McDonald – with Euan Walker now delighted to be following in the spike marks of his former amateur colleagues.
Hard work pays off
“I’ve worked really hard to be in the position I’m in right now, so it’s nice to get some of the rewards from that and be involved in the Walker Cup,” said the 23-year-old, who faces a little extra pressure this weekend given fellow Kilmarnock (Barassie) members McDonald, Gordon Sherry and Jim Milligan were all on victorious GB&I Walker Cup teams. “I think playing in the Walker Cup is the pinnacle of every amateur golfer’s career. It’s the pinnacle, it’s the top.”
Walker, who lost an engrossing Final of The Amateur Championship to Sugrue on the 36th hole after a valiant comeback and was also runner-up in the European Amateur Championship, has other players of pedigree for company.
The English Amateur champion Conor Gough, still only aged 16, Conor Purcell, the Australian Amateur Championship earlier this year, and Alex Fitzpatrick, whose brother Matthew played in the Walker Cup in 2013, are also among Watson’s charges.
“The Walker Cup is a fantastic opportunity for these amateur golfers to demonstrate their talents on the big stage and it will be an experience that will remain with them for the rest of their lives,” said Watson, who played in the 1997 Walker Cup at Quaker Ridge after defeating a South African by the name of Trevor Immelman, the 2008 Masters Champion, 3&2 in the final.
The visitors have travelled in confidence. At the time of the teams being finalised, three of the American players sat inside the top seven of the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ (WAGR™) – World No. 1 Cole Hammer, Akshay Bhatia (5) and Stewart Hagestad (7).
Hammer, who attends the University of Texas, claimed the Mark H McCormack Medal as the leading men’s player in the 2019 WAGR™ helped by three college victories in his freshman year.
While Hammer, 19, and Bhatia, only 17, offer youth and promise, Hagestad is a seasoned mid-amateur campaigner who brings valuable experience to Nathaniel Crosby’s side. The 28-year-old qualified for the US Open for the third consecutive time in June.
U.S. Amateur finalists
Crosby, a Walker Cup winner in 1983, can also call on Georgia Tech senior Andy Ogletree after he earned an automatic spot with his victory at the U.S. Amateur.
Among others to watch is John Augenstein, who despite losing to Ogletree in the final at Pinehurst, still boasts a 17-4-1 record in match play competition since the spring of 2017.
Hoylake suits match play
“I think the course is perfectly suited to match play,” added Watson. “You’ve got that opening hole which is going to be won or lost in a lot of matches and then you’ve got two par fives close together near the end, where momentum can change quickly. It’s going to be perfect for the Walker Cup. It’s also a very fair course, you can see everything in front of you. It’s one of my favourite courses on The Open pool.”
With Royal Liverpool marking its 150th anniversary this year, who will be savouring their own celebrations come Sunday evening? GB&I will be hoping home history repeats itself.
Declan McGinley is the digital services executive for The R&A. Email him at email@example.com.