Conditions Saturday afternoon seemed perfect for a Great Britain & Ireland charge. As the wind picked up at National Golf Links, the visitors exited foursomes with a 1-point lead on the Americans. GB&I seemed to cruise to that advantage on a cool Long Island morning, which made the afternoon carnage that much more surprising.
As GB&I captain Nigel Edwards said, you need something to go your way in a team event to prompt a momentum shift. For the U.S., it was Max Homa’s 5-and-3 victory over Max Orrin from the second spot on the singles draw. It made the impending thumping a reality.
“A lot of things went America’s way today,” Edwards said. Indeed, the Americans won 6 1/2 of eight available points in singles to build an 8-4 lead entering Sunday’s final day.
That said, a lot of things didn’t go well for GB&I. The lowlight reel includes Neil Raymond’s comeback attempt against Bobby Wyatt at the top of the draw, which ended in a 2-up Wyatt victory when Raymond sprayed his approach right of the 18th green and effectively took himself out of the hole. It includes U.S. Amateur champion Matt Fitzpatrick’s 3-and-1 loss to Michael Weaver and Nathan Kimsey’s missed 4-footer at No. 18 to win a full point from Justin Thomas – he instead took only a half. A handful of GB&I players – Raymond, Smith, Garrick Porteous, Kimsey – tried mightily to right their matches, but each player fell victim to No. 18, the reachable par 5.
Only Gavin Moynihan, the incoming Alabama freshman from Ireland, was able to secure a full point for GB&I. That happened on No. 17 green, as Moynihan’s teammates stood on No. 18 watching Kimsey miss his putt. Edwards said it didn’t make a difference, but one has to wonder how it can’t. Moynihan’s 2-and-1 victory over Patrick Rodgers was the positive exclamation point for GB&I.
“There’s no panic,” Moynihan said. “There’s still 14 points out tomorrow.”
It’s difficult to pin down what, exactly, happened to GB&I in the afternoon. The best explanation was trouble around the greens, which became increasingly firm throughout the day. Cups can be won with the flatstick, and GB&I didn’t have it Saturday.
“The Americans are used to the fast and slopey greens,” Moynihan said. “We’re more used to flatter greens and not as fast.”
At the end of the day, Edwards calmly explained that America’s 8-4 lead was not insurmountable. It will require better putting from his squad on Sunday, and a lot of focus. Credit the captain for his stoic attitude in the face of adversity, even if it was one of the only positives GB&I could take from the day.
To GB&I’s credit, each player emerged from his defeat with head held high, but the group retreated hastily to the team room as soon as the matches were over.
“It’s going to be hard work tomorrow,” Edwards said. “But you know, any time you win a Walker Cup, it’s never going to be easy.”