Whitson takes Spanish Amateur, eyes Walker Cup

Remember the name Reeve Whitson. The 23-year-old Irishman might just play himself into this year’s Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team.

Whitson beat experienced Englishman Neil Raymond 4 and 3 in the 36-hole final of the Spanish Amateur Championship at La Manga Golf Club in Southern Spain. It could be the start of Whitson’s journey to the National Golf Links in Southampton, New York, September 7-8 to help GB&I try to retain the Walker Cup.

Raymond was the favorite to defeat Whitson in Spain. The 28-year-old Englishman successfully defended the English Amateur Stroke Play Championship (the Brabazon Trophy) last year at Walton Heath. He won the 2012 Titleist & FootJoy Order of Merit as the leading English amateur, and represented his country at the World Amateur Team Championship in Turkey.

Despite Raymond’s pedigree, Whitson was two up at lunch, and never faltered in the second 18 to take the title.

Barring a total collapse mid-season, expect Raymond to represent GB&I in this year’s Curtis Cup. Other Englishmen expected to bid for a place in the 10-man GB&I team include Raymond’s Eisenhower teammates Craig Hinton and Garrick Porteous. Throw in reigning British Boys’ Champion Matthew Fitzpatrick, Toby Tree, Ben Stow and Callum Shinkwin. Tree is perhaps the most-highly rated of that group.

Whitson’s name hasn’t been bandied about too much in conversations about the Walker Cup, but his Spanish win will have caused GB&I squad selectors to sit up and take extra notice. Expect him to push Gavin Moynihan, Dermot McElroy and Kevin Phelan as the leading Irish contenders.

Scottish hopefuls for the trip to Long Island include Jack McDonald, James White, Graeme Robertson and Matthew Clark. McDonald was a semifinalist at last year’s British Amateur Championship at Royal Troon, while Robertson and Clark represented Scotland in last year’s World Amateur Team Championship.

Rhys Pugh was a sensation at the last Walker Cup. Then just 17, the Welshman won three points out of three to help GB&I win 14-12. Now at East Tennessee State University, Pugh is the favorite to represent Wales in this year’s match.

Pugh appears to be the only Welsh representative. Compatriots Ben Westgate and Jason Shufflebotham are longshots to make the GB&I team. Westgate is the highest ranked Welsh player on the World Amateur Golf Ranking at 140th, 20 places ahead of Pugh. Shufflebotham, who attended the University of Alabama, is ranked 242nd and is a former British Amateur Championship semifinalist. He is capable of a big summer to make a push for the team.

GB&I Walker Cup captain Nigel Edwards will name his team in early August following the English, Scottish and Welsh Amateur Championships. Expect Englishmen to make up the nucleus of the team, as in previous years.

With a full spring and summer’s golf to come, Edwards and the GB&I selectors will have some tough decisions to make in early August. As Whitson’s upset win in Spain proves, there is a lot of time and many tournaments left for players to make their Walker Cup marks.

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