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GB&I Walker Squad World-Wise

You ask Peter McEvoy, who captained two winning Walker Cup sides, about the 10-strong side which GB and Ireland will field for the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen in September and he makes a couple of points. The first, that the squad members are a uniformly useful bunch; the second, that the players’ average age has tumbled dramatically over the past 10 to 15 years.

Looming large among the positives is the fact that almost all of the contenders have been making their presence felt in the world at large rather than merely in the UK. Tom Lewis’s feat in Australia has probably done more than any other to raise a few American eyebrows.

Prior to picking up the silver medal in the Australian Open, the 20-year-old Hertfordshire golfer was a runner-up to Peter O’Malley in the New South Wales Open, only losing to that wily old professional on a play-off.

“The great thing about Tom,” says McEvoy, “is that you could put him on a practice ground anywhere in the world and he wouldn’t look out of place. He’s definitely a star in the making. There’s a touch of Luke Donald about him only he’s more obviously powerful than Luke was at the same stage.”

To give just a brief outline of some of the overseas successes of others, Andrew Sullivan, 23, captured the New South Wales Medal; Jack Senior, 22, the New South Wales Amateur and the Egyptian Amateur; Laurie Canter, 21, the Spanish Amateur; Rhys Pugh, 17, the Irish Amateur Open; Michael Stewart, 21, the South African Open; and David Law, 20, the Northern Open Amateur Match Play Championship, again in South Africa. Canter took himself out of the equation when he recently announced he was turning professional.

The 22-year-old James Byrne, as the runner up in last year’s Amateur at Muirfield, is another to have made his mark in an international context. What is more, the selectors will approve the fact that this graduate of Arizona State is in a position to reassure the rest that the Americans are not necessarily as invincible as their superior rankings might suggest. That they have bad days as well as good.

Meanwhile, it goes without saying that if Byrne, Stewart and Law were all to make the side, their presence could only assist in the matter of drawing Scottish supporters through the gate. Ireland’s 18-year-old Dermot McIlroy, the former Irish Boys’ champion who handed in a record-smashing 61 during the course of this year’s Peter McEvoy Trophy, would be another to draw the crowds, with much the same applying to the 22-year-old Paul Cutler, winner of the recent West of Ireland championship.

Since McEvoy will not be the only one to have voiced concern about the relative rawness of the players, the selectors will almost certainly want the 21-year-old Stiggy Hodgson in their team. Hodgson is the only squad member to have played in the 2009 match at Merion where, for the record, he contributed two points to the GB&I’s total haul of 9 1⁄2 as against the Americans’ 16 1⁄2.

Hodgson had a quiet season in 2010 as he worked on eliminating excess movement from his swing. But he is getting back to the business of notching results, most notably in Spanish Amateur, where he only lost to Canter in the final.

Since then, he has impressed this year’s captain, Nigel Edwards, during the squad’s three-day practice match at Royal Aberdeen at the start of May. “I like the way Stiggy goes about his business,” said Edwards. “He doesn’t mind who he’s playing with and he doesn’t mind who he’s playing against. Some of the others have to learn not to fear the Walker Cup and everything else around it, but Stiggy embraces everything to do with it.”

Hodgson confirmed as much. “Guys in the squad keep asking me what it’s really like and I tell them that playing at Merion was one of the best experiences of my golfing life.”

Gary Wolstenholme, a veteran of six Walker Cups who is now playing on the European Senior Tour, makes the point that the week would be unbelievably tough for Edwards if his team were to consist of nothing but newcomers. “He would have to be all four of a father figure, a mentor, a coach and a captain – and that’s just to the players.”

“Most youngsters,” he continued, “do not want to talk about how they are feeling or how they are really playing. Nor do they want to show any signs of weakness by asking questions. Which is why, when I was around as a fellow player, I would let slip what I thought would be helpful on any given day.”

Wolstenholme, who was in his 40s when he played in the last three of his Walker Cups (2001, 2003 and 2005), always ended up giving a bit of technical help to those who were struggling. At the same time, he did his best to encourage positive chat – and laughter – among the more obviously nervous candidates.

The selectors maybe need to take note. A joker in the pack would not go amiss.


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