ABERDEEN, Scotland – It was close, but Great Britain & Ireland pulled it off. Just.
On Sunday at Royal Aberdeen, the GB&I squad claimed the Walker Cup after three straight losses, defeating the United States 14-12 to win the cup for the first time since 2003.
The home team survived a battering from the U.S. in the final singles, losing the session 6.5–3.5. However, the U.S. left themselves with too much of a mountain to climb after losing the morning foursomes 3.5–.5.
GB&I took a 10.5–5.5 lead into the singles and only needed to win three points to win the cup. They cut it fine.
“I kind of thought that my guys would fight back,” U.S. captain Jim Holtgrieve said. “They did courageously.”
GB&I entered this match as rank underdogs. On paper the match was a U.S. whitewash. Holtgrieve had the world’s top four players on his team in Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Rodgers and Peter Uihlein. World No. 6 Harris English gave him five of the top six, while Chris Williams at world No. 10 made it six of the top 10.
Andy Sullivan and Tom Lewis at world Nos. 5 and 7 respectively, were the only two GB&I world top 10 players.
Edwards told his players to ignore the world rankings. “The match isn’t played on paper.”
“Did I expect to be sat here winning?” Edwards said. “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. They are very special and they proved that this week.”
Scotland’s Michael Stewart agreed.
“I don’t think at any point we were underdogs no,” he said. “It didn’t really make a difference to us. We didn’t really pay much attention to what was written. Nigel just let us go about our own business. We just focused on us and at the end of the week it paid off.”
Home-course advantage helped the GB&I team. So did the weather. Every major amateur tournament in the British Isles this summer has been plagued by bad weather. No wonder the home team welcomed the strong winds that buffeted the ancient Balgownie Links on the final day
“The difference was, I think the conditions,” Holtgrieve said. “Even though my guys have played in windy conditions, I think it does take some time to get used to those conditions.”
Rhys Pugh, 17, emerged as one of the heroes of this Walker Cup, going 3-0. When he closed out his match against U.S. Amateur champion Kelly Kraft on the 17th green to win 2 and 1, it took the home team to 13 points. England’s Steven Brown took GB&I to everlasting glory by earning a half against Blayne Barber to take the home side to the magic 13.5 points and victory for the first time in eight years.
“These boys are a very special bunch of guys,” said Edwards. “I said to the boys at lunch time that we haven’t won, that we have to get on with it. I had a lot of faith in these boys.”
Holtgrieve sent his team out in the final 10 singles hoping to get some points on the board early to over come a five-point deficit. Trailing GB&I 10.5-5.5, and needing to win 7.5 of 10 points just to retain the cup and eight to win it outright, Holtgrieve wanted points on the board early to have any chance.
He got them. Russell Henley bounced back from being benched in the morning foursomes to defeat GB&I front man Tom Lewis 4 and 2. Jordan Spieth played his part, defeating Andy Sullivan 3 and 2 to take the U.S. to 7.5 points.
Nathan Smith, the eldest player on either team, did his bit by halving with Jack Senior. Smith would have won the match if not for Senior holing a 35 footer for birdie on the last green to win the hole.
Chris Williams and Harris English also earned wins, while Patrick Cantlay halved his match with Paul Cutler.
It just wasn’t enough.
Asked what was the key to victory, Edwards said it came down to one key ingredient.
“Our preparation. You prepare properly, you get the results.”
Edwards won two and lost two Walker Cups as a player. He came here hoping to get his hands on a third. His dream came true.
“I’ve got my nose in front now. I’m three and two with the help of these 10 guys.”