Walker Cup preview: U.S. better on paper

The par-5 12th hole at Royal Aberdeen in Aberdeen, Scotland

Just as well that the Walker Cup is not played on paper. Otherwise, the Great Britain & Ireland team might just not turn up for the match that begins Saturday at Royal Aberdeen.

On paper, it appears to be no contest.

The United States is bringing some heavy guns to try to win George Herbert Walker’s cup. U.S. captain Jim Holtgrieve has the world’s top four players on his side. He has five of the world’s top 10, eight of the world’s top 24 and nine players in the top 55. He only has one player outside the world top 100.

GB&I captain Nigel Edwards, meanwhile, counts only two players in the top 10, four in the top 20 and six in the top 36. Nine of his players are inside the world top 80, and he has one player outside the world top 200.

World No. 1 Patrick Cantlay leads the U.S. team as one of the world’s top four players, along with Jordan Spieth, Patrick Rodgers and Peter Uihlein, the world’s Nos. 2, 3 and 4 players, respectively.

Harris English rolls in at No. 6. He is one of two players on the U.S. team to have won a professional event this summer. He won a Nationwide Tour event in June immediately after winning the Southern Amateur.

Russell Henley, who teamed with English at the University of Georgia, is the other player to have won a professional event this summer. He won the Nationwide Tour’s Stadion Classic in April.

Cantlay did not win a professional event this summer, but he finished inside the top 25 in the four PGA Tour events in which he played, including low amateur at the U.S. Open.

Uihlein is one of two U.S. players who played on the victorious 2009 team. Indeed, the Oklahoma State senior won each of his four matches two years ago. He notched two of those points in the company of Nathan Smith. So Holtgrieve has a ready-made foursomes pairing.

Edwards doesn’t have the luxury of having players who won professional events. However, Tom Lewis shared the first-round lead at this year’s Open Championship and eventually beat out Uihlein to win the silver medal as low amateur.

Stiggy Hodgson is the only survivor from the losing 2009 team. He won two points out of four at Merion, but impressed the galleries with his bulldog spirit. The diminutive Englishman might look like a pushover by his stature, but he’s a seasoned match player who might see a lot of action.

Edwards also has a few links specialists on his side. Michael Stewart grew up at Troon, Scotland, and feels right at home on links turf. That’s even more so for James Byrne.

Byrne lives in Banchory, just 20 miles from Aberdeen. The former Arizona State player knows Royal Aberdeen better than any player on the GB&I team.

Jack Senior won this year’s Lytham Trophy in horrific conditions. He also reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur, so he’ll be up for the fight.

Ireland’s Paul Cutler is another who enjoys links golf. He won the 2010 Lytham Trophy and finished 21st in the Irish Open on the European Tour.

Above all, Edwards will be hoping home-course advantage helps his side. The GB&I players are used to links golf because most of the big events in the British Isles are contested on links courses.

The U.S. players warmed up for Aberdeen by playing rounds at St. Andrews and Kingsbarns. They will also get enough practice rounds in at Royal Aberdeen to become familiar enough with the course.

Edwards will be hoping that old adage holds true about anything can happen in 18-hole match play. He should take comfort from the fact that the best team on paper doesn’t always win. After all, he helped GB&I win the 2003 match when many thought the U.S. team was better.

Moreover, he will remember the 2007 match at Royal County Down when a GB&I team, including Rory McIlroy, did not win.

So, we are in for two days of great golf. The U.S. holds a 34-7-1 advantage in the biennial competition. The Americans also have won the past three matches following three GB&I victories. So GB&I will be desperate to stop the U.S. from making it four in a row.

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