It has taken a long time, nearly half a century in fact, but it is now clear that European golf is at least on a par with the US at every level. For people of a certain age, the fact that Great Britain and Ireland have won the Walker Cup three times in succession is almost unbelievable.
Hopelessness was a feeling that was generally held on these shores from the moment that the US Walker Cup team arrived. Six years ago that feeling gave way to optimism tinged with apprehension - now there is widespread confidence with creeping feelings of invincibility.
Not wishing to spoil the party, one should nevertheless remember that Great Britain and Ireland have recorded only seven wins against the US background of 31 victories. This is mentioned only because those of a certain age who suffered through a long succession of defeats deserve to savour a long succession of victories.
There is something wonderfully reassuring about the Walker Cup and it is especially warmly reassuring when its playing is accompanied by success. Unlike the Ryder Cup, the venue is always a proper golf course and this year's, Ganton, is characteristic of the whole. Ganton has proper bunkers and greens, it comprises holes that, while inviting risk and rewarding the bold, acknowledges prudence and caution. Holes are of testing length without being of trek length.
And unlike the Ryder Cup, Walker Cup spectators are knowledgeable. Unadulterated with corporate suits, lager louts and professional hype, uncluttered with commercial entrepreneurs it is simply golf for the pure and simple sake of golf.
Walker Cup participants are mortals, amateurs yet without pretension. The responsibility of playing for their country may weigh heavily upon them but the honour is clearly expressed and the pleasure is transparent. There may well be stresses and strains but there are rarely tears and although grim expressions, punching the air and other desperate mannerisms have crept into the matches in recent years, they are still relatively subdued. The Walker Cup thankfully remains not about war but about golf.
With new found equilibrium in the balance of golfing power, recent Walker Cups have generated great excitement in the process of unleashing young talent. Few will forget Luke Donald and Paul Casey at Nairn and we are equally likely to see a great deal more of Oliver Wilson, Stuart Wilson, David Inglis and Stuart Manley on the pro Tour in years to come.
With a backbone of age and experience, Garth McGimpsy had a good team at his disposal. Gary Wolstenholme is as solid as a rock and as regular as a Bach fugue. Reminiscent of RDM (Ronnie) Shade whose initials begged the acronym 'right down the middle', Wolstenholme has matched Sir Michael Bonallack's Walker Cup record with his consistency and concentration.
The 35-year-old Nigel Edwards also brought grim determination to the spine of the team.
It was a close run thing at Ganton. The Great Britain and Ireland team led after the first days morning foursomes but were reduced to a two game deficit after the afternoons singles when only Stuart Wilson managed a half point for the home side. The deficit remained after the Sunday morning foursomes and, considering what had transpired in the singles on Saturday, there was little optimism about.
But the Sunday afternoon singles provided a roller coaster of entertainment. In the first game Oliver Wilson got to three up against Bill Haas, son of the great Jay, before losing three holes to birdies. He took the 16th to return a one hole win. In the second game Gary Wolstenholme eroded the 17-year-old Casey Wittenberg to a 3 and 2 win and in the third game Micheal Skelton collected six birdies in a 3 and 2 victory over Adam Rubinson.
The home side's one game lead was lost when Matt Hendrix trounced Stuart Wilson 5 and 4 and the US went ahead when Brook Mackenzie at level par beat the wayward Irishman Moriarty 3 and 1. David Inglis produced the best golf of the event when he levelled the proceedings with seven birdies and no dropped shots in his 4 and 3 win over Ryan Moore, the US Amateur Champion who made the cut in the Masters in April.
With the scores level at 11 points each and only two matches left on the course it was nail biting stuff. Stuart Manley was dragged back from a three hole lead by the swaggering Trip Kuchne but held on to recover and take his game 3 and 2.
It was all up to Nigel Edwards and the 35-year--old Welshman did not let the side down. The Cup was already retained with 12 points but Edwards delivered the outright win. In a game that was never distinguished, Ray Williams was never behind against Edwards but he was also never more than one up. Edwards squared the match at the 14th but promptly lost the 15th. With a 40-foot putt, reminiscent of that from the Valley of Sin on the Old Course which took Constantina Rocca into a play-off in the '95 Open, Edwards took a one hole lead onto the 18th tee. On the 18th green he conceded a 10-foot putt for the hole and the half point necessary for the outright win of the Cup.
Magnanimity, indeed, but entirely in the spirit of the game and the Walker Cup.
|| 8 - SEPTEMBER 2003