If tenacity could be packaged in human form, it would appear as 41-year-old Nigel Bruce Edwards. Edwards will captain the Great Britain and Ireland team that will contest the St. Andrews Trophy against continental Europe in Italy in August and the 43rd Walker Cup against the United States at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in September 2011.
Consider Edwards on-course performance in the Walker Cup at Ganton in England in 2003. Edwards was GB&I’s leading point-getter in those matches with 3 1/2. And he provided the key half point against Lee Williams of the U.S. that clinched his side’s 12 1/2 to 11 1/2 victory. Edwards’ halve was highlighted by a 60-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole.
Edwards has been described by Peter McEvoy, his captain on the first of his four Walker Cup playing campaigns, as “the perfect man for the job.” The challenge ahead will test every aspect of Welshman Edwards accumulated knowledge, experience, personality and competitiveness. In an era of the pampered elite amateur, Edwards is an unspoiled one. He is a throw-back to the era of notables Michael Bonallack and Joe Carr. An only child in a non-golfing household, Edwards has needed single-minded application and exceptional drive to haul himself, while studying and in full-time employment, through the club, county and national competitive ranks.
Edwards made his Walker Cup debut amidst the high humidity of Sea Island (Ga.) in August, 2001. It was an exposure that could easily have been the end of Nigel’s story as a player after a decisive loss to American Nick Cassini. The hard-to-please McEvoy was impressed by such esprit de corps. The GB&I team won handily, 15-9 and Edwards shared in the glory. Now, aware of the standard required to compete with the world’s best amateurs, Edwards, the Welsh Golfing Union’s golf coordinator, has pushed himself to new levels of fitness, performance and success.
Over the seven years since Sea Island, he compiled a formidable record in team and individual competition, highlighted by victory in the prestigious South African Amateur in 2006 and three more Walker Cup appearances. That included an heroic contribution in GB&I’s comeback victory at Ganton (England) in 2003.
But it will be Edwards’ personality, maturity, sense of humor and comfort in his own skin that will keep him, and those he leads, well-grounded. Moreover, as his most recent captain, Colin Dalgleish, is quick to testify, “There is no one better attuned, through his job and as a competitor, to the idiosyncrasies and foibles of the transient young stars of the elite amateur game.”
Captaincy of the Walker Cup team has only been bestowed upon two other Welshmen — Lt.Col. A.A. (Tony) Duncan, who led the team in 1953 at Kittansett; and Clive Brown, who was at the helm at Royal Porthcawl in 1995 and at Quaker Ridge in 1997. Edwards, however, will be the first Welsh Walker Cup player to be captain. Duncan was appointed “playing” captain but never actually played.
The General Committee of The R&A has put its faith into a safe pair of hands. Edwards’ immediate concern is winning the St. Andrews Trophy, a task, in the modern era, just as difficult as a successful Walker Cup campaign. While it is likely the continental team will not include the current two top-ranked amateurs in the world — Italy’s Matteo Manassero and Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, both destined for the pros before the end of July — it will still be littered with future European Tour stars. Historically, players picked for the St. Andrews Trophy form the core of the following year’s Walker Cup team. When the pressure from agents and family to make an immediate switch in ranks is greater than ever once the GB&I platform has been reached, Edwards can make no assumptions that any of his team in Italy will still be eligible 12 months hence.
The St. Andrews Trophy is a biennial competition started in 1956 that takes its name from St. Andrews in Scotland, which is known as the “Home of Golf.” It takes place in even-numbered years (Great Britain & Ireland plays in the United States in the Walker Cup in odd-numbered years). It is staged alternately in Great Britain & Ireland and on the continent. The St. Andrews Trophy was presented by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in 1963. The event comprises four morning foursomes followed by eight afternoon singles on two consecutive days. Many leading European golfers have played in the St. Andrews Trophy, including Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal.
Facing the Americans in the more highly-publicized Walker Cup with a team of GB&I rookies is a distinct possibility. Regardless, there is none better qualified than the proud and passionate Edwards to inspire and lead them and reverse the recent wave of American victories.