Walker Cup: Edwards adds moxie, know-how to GB&I

Nigel Edwards

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. –– Nigel Edwards would be on this year’s Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team if the R&A had followed the U.S. Golf Association’s lead and picked two mid-amateurs. The GB&I captain is that good.

That’s one reason the Welshman commands such respect from this year’s GB&I team. That and his extensive knowledge of the game.

“Nigel has a lot of respect from the players because he’s been there, he’s played Walker Cups, he’s played the big amateur tournaments and done well,” said England’s Neil Raymond, at 27 the oldest member of the GB&I team that will play America's top amateurs in the Walker Cup on Sept. 7-8 at The National Golf Links on Long Island.

Edwards returns to the GB&I captaincy two years after masterminding a GB&I victory at Royal Aberdeen (Scotland) Golf Club. Edwards’ side entered that Walker Cup as obvious underdogs, yet emerged as 14-12 winners.

True, inclement weather and home-course advantage played parts, but Edwards’ experience helped defeat a U.S. team that included six of the World Amateur Golf Ranking's top 10.

Edwards had the nous to put faith in 17-year-old countryman Rhys Pugh. The teenager rose to the occasion, delivering three wins, including a Saturday singles victory over then World No. 3 Patrick Rodgers, who returns this year for the Americans.

Edwards had no qualms about benching Stiggy Hodgson for two of the four sessions, even though Hodgson was the only GB&I returnee from the 2009 match. The diminutive Englishman emerged as the GB&I star in a losing effort at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.

Two years ago, Edwards stressed to his players that world rankings meant nothing over two days. “The match isn’t played on paper,” he told them.

He also arrived in Aberdeen fully expecting to win back the cup that the GB&I had failed to win on three previous occasions.

“Did I expect to be sat here winning?” Edwards said as he cradled the Walker Cup. “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.”

He’ll send a similar message to this year’s team.

Edwards, 45, played in four consecutive Walker Cups, from 2001 to 2007. He was on winning teams in '01 and '03, securing the point in '03 that ensured GB&I's retention of the cup. During that time, he compiled a 4-4-4 record.

Edwards will draw on his experience to give his side the best chance of winning.

“Preparation is key,” Edwards said. “I’ve got to make sure everything is spot-on so the guys can just worry about playing. I’ve got a lot of experience, too, from playing in the match and from captaining last time around. I feel I can bring that to the team, and it can make a difference.”

Don’t be under any illusions that Edwards thinks he’ll make the only difference. He knows his role extends only so far. He knows the 10 men whom he has selected will need to have two vital ingredients if they are to defend Herbert Walker’s cup for the first time since 2003.

“Attitude and putting,” Edwards said when asked what will make the difference at The National Golf Links. “I need my guys to be able to hole out when it matters. I also need them to embrace the challenge and not fear it. It’s obviously going to be a bigger stage than what they’re used to, and they need to welcome that.”

Edwards was the natural choice for captain – the only choice, in fact – to replace Colin Dalgleish when the Scotsman stepped down after the 2009 match. Edwards brings a pragmatic approach honed from years of helping develop Welsh amateurs while working for the Welsh Golf Union, and as the current performance director for the English Golf Union.

Don’t be surprised if Edwards makes it 2 for 2 as a winning captain.

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