U.S. Walker Cup squad faces GB&I's home-field advantage

David Cannon/R&A via Getty Images

U.S. Walker Cup squad faces GB&I's home-field advantage

Amateur

U.S. Walker Cup squad faces GB&I's home-field advantage

By

The United States Walker Cup team could be in for the same rude awakening Sept. 7-8 at Royal Liverpool that Great Britain & Ireland experienced at Los Angeles Country Club two years ago.

Away teams haven’t fared well in recent matches – home teams have won 11 of the last 13. The recurring theme is that players underperform when taken out of their comfort zones.

Better U.S. teams than the one assembled for this match have gone into the competition as favorites and left on the receiving end of a defeat that has left future stars scratching their heads after experiencing links golf for the first time. The 2011 U.S. team at Royal Aberdeen featured Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Peter Uihlein, Patrick Rodgers, Russell Henley and Harris English (pictured above), and they lost 14-12 to a home team better equipped for the capricious nature of seaside golf.

“It blew like 40 mph both days,” Cantlay said. “I’d never played in 40-mph winds before. That was tough for a lot of guys. They didn’t flight the ball the way they needed to. It definitely negated ballstriking, especially off the tee, where we had a distinct advantage over the other team.

More Walker Cup content

Bragging rights: Fitzpatrick not worried with brother’s record
Just numbers: Why rankings carry no weight at Walker Cup
Legacy: Crosby’s Walker Cup captaincy adds to family name

“Peter Uihlein was playing a kid (Stiggy Hodgson), who was only 5-foot-6. I saw them into the wind on a par 5 and Peter had only outdriven him by 8 yards. If we were playing over here, Peter would have hit it 50 yards past him on every single hole. The conditions kind of negated some of our strengths because we weren’t used to it blowing 40. I know I wasn’t.”

Only two members of that 2011 GB&I team – Andy Sullivan and Tom Lewis – have really found success in the professional game, yet GB&I won.

“The media said the Americans were the favorite for Aberdeen,” GB&I captain Nigel Edwards said. “I actually thought we were favorites simply because we’d been to Aberdeen numerous times. We knew the golf course inside out. We’re used to playing in the conditions we got that weekend. We had wind, rain, squalls coming in. I don’t think American teams are comfortable with that sort of weather.”

That’s certainly Bryson DeChambeau’s take. He played in the 2015 match at Royal Lytham when GB&I won 16½-9½.

“We were favored heavily, but it’s a different style of golf,” DeChambeau said. “You can have the nicest day ever and you can have the windiest day ever, rainiest day ever. You can get all these different conditions, and we are not used to that style of golf.”

Edwards completed his third term as GB&I captain at Royal Lytham. He believes the golf course was the deciding factor.

“The Americans didn’t realize how hard Royal Lytham was,” he said. “One of the Americans asked me after their first practice round if Lytham always played that hard. I said, ‘No, it usually plays harder!’

“We play the Lytham Trophy there in May when conditions can be brutal. We’re used to not making piles of birdies in links golf, and they’re used to making lots of birdies. We have an advantage because we’re used to playing in tough conditions.”

British and Irish golfers heading to the United States also struggle on unfamiliar courses featuring fast, heavily contoured greens. The 2017 GB&I team at Los Angeles Country Club went into the match as underdogs and were flattened 17-9  by the U.S. team.

“We didn’t have enough time to prepare properly,” said Andy Ingram, who acted as GB&I captain when Craig Watson withdrew because of a family illness. “If you’re going to win away from home, you have to prepare properly.

“They putted better on those greens than us, and they don’t putt so well on links greens. That’s a huge factor.”

Ingram is chairman of the GB&I Walker Cup selection committee and has had a huge influence on the 10 players Watson will captain this year at Royal Liverpool. Ingram has made sure Watson’s charges are extremely familiar with the course.

He also has made a strong recommendation to the R&A to help future GB&I teams win in the U.S.

“If we’re going to win over there, we’ve got to try and prepare better,” Ingram said. “I’ve advised (R&A chief executive) Martin Slumbers that our squad needs at least one trip over there before the event. We only had three rounds in L.A. I don’t think we had enough time on the course.”

DeChambeau wishes in retrospect he’d prepared differently for the 2015 match.

“My advice is to try and play links-style golf courses in different conditions and have them try and score,” he said. “Don’t just go out there and hit three or four balls. Go out and play golf. That’ll wake them up real quick.”

Cantlay also said the key to American success is to prepare for awful conditions.

“Really studying the golf course and knowing where you can leave the golf ball, I think, is important over there so you can get up and down,” Cantlay said. “If the weather gets bad, you’re not going to be able to hit all the greens, so you need to know where to leave your golf ball so you can get up and down.”

This U.S. team could face the same problem Cantlay and DeChambeau experienced. The match could be all over by the time they get used to links conditions.

47th Walker Cup

WHEN: Sept. 7-8
WHERE: Royal Liverpool, Hoylake, England
WHAT: Biennial amateur match with the U.S. vs. Great Britain and Ireland
THE SERIES: U.S. leads 36-9-1
U.S. TEAM: John Augenstein, 21, Owensboro, Ky.; Akshay Bhatia, 17, Wake Forest, N.C.; Steven Fisk, 22, Stockbridge, Ga.; Stewart Hagestad, 28, Newport Beach, Calif.; Cole Hammer, 19, Houston, Texas; Andy Ogletree, 21, Little Rock, Miss.; John Pak, 20, Scotch Plains, N.J.; Isaiah Salinda, 22, South San Francisco, Calif.; Alex Smalley, 22, Greensboro, N.C.; Brandon Wu, 22, Scarsdale, N.Y.; Captain Nathaniel Crosby
GB&I Team: Alex Fitzpatrick, 20, England; Conor Gough, 16, England; Harry Hall, 22, England; Thomas Plumb, 20, England; Conor Purcell, 22, Republic of Ireland; Caolan Rafferty, 26, Republic of Ireland; Sandy Scott, 21, Scotland; Tom Sloman, 23, England; James Sugrue, 22, Republic of Ireland; Euan Walker, 23, Scotland; Captain Craig Watson.

TV coverage

There is no live TV coverage of the 2019 Walker Cup, but there will be highlight shows at Golf Channel at 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Steve DiMeglio contributed to this report, which originally appeared in the September print issue of Golfweek.

Latest

More Golfweek
Home