GB&I team faces tough task at Walker Cup

James Byrne tees off during the quarterfinals of the British Amateur.

James Byrne tees off during the quarterfinals of the British Amateur.

Just as well the Walker Cup is not played on paper. If it was, then Great Britain & Ireland wouldn’t even bother to turn up for the biennial match to be played Sept. 10-11 in Aberdeen, Scotland.

It’s also a good thing the match is still eight months away. It gives GB&I time to prepare to take on a much stronger U.S. team.

If the rankings are anything to go by, then we are returning to the days of the “Walkover Cup.” Those dismal days pre-1990s when all the U.S. had to do was turn up to guarantee taking home George Herbert Walker’s piece of silver.

GB&I hasn’t won the match since 2003 at Ganton, England. The last three have gone the way of the U.S. Both teams were fairly evenly matched in all three. The U.S. won close matches in 2005 and 2007, and won in 2009, thanks largely to a poor performance from a decent GB&I team.

Signs are that even if GB&I plays well at Royal Aberdeen, it may not be enough to stop a fourth successive defeat. The rankings suggest red, white and blue will be the flag flying highest when the sun sets on this year’s Walker Cup.

Both teams have assembled squads in preparation for the match. The world ranking numbers for players on each squad make for happy reading for U.S. captain Jim Holtgrieve, but should be a source of deep concern for GB&I captain Nigel Edwards.

The U.S. squad includes the top-four ranked amateurs in the R&A’s World Amateur Golf Ranking – Peter Uihlein, David Chung, Patrick Cantlay and Alex Ching – with another two in the top 10 – Scott Langley and Russell Henley. Fourteen of the 16 are in the world top 43. Only two are outside the top 100. Nathan Smith is the lowest-ranked player at 174, but he played for the U.S. team that won at Merion in 2009.

By comparison, the highest-ranked player in the 20-man GB&I squad is Scotland’s James Byrne at number 15. England’s Andrew Sullivan is the only other player in the top 20, at number 17. They are two of only six players in the top 100.

Meanwhile, GB&I has seven players ranked outside the top 200, with Welshman Alastair Jones the lowest-ranked player on both teams at 630th.

More alarm bells sounded for Edwards with the news that highly rated English player Tom Lewis, world number 33, is thinking of turning pro before the match. He made the cut in the Dubai Desert Classic, his first European Tour event, and lost a playoff for the New South Wales Open on the Australasian Tour late last year. He didn’t seem optimistic about his team’s fortunes at the Walker Cup.

“If you look at the rankings, America is a much stronger team,” Lewis said. “The U.S. is going to be strong, and they’re going to be tough to beat.”

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