IT took a miracle at Medinah in the Ryder Cup to deny the Americans. After just one day in the PGA Cup, it needs a sensation at Slaley Hall to do likewise following US captain Allen Wronowski taking a leaf out of Paul Azinger’s book to help the visitors secure a commanding 6-2 advantage.
After seeing his side make an encouraging start in the 26th biennial bout by sharing the morning foursomes in Northumberland, Great Britain & Ireland captain Russell Weir was soon left with a mountain to climb as the visitors recorded a 4-0 whitewash in the fourballs.
“I didn’t expect that and I’m gutted, to be honest,” admitted the Cowal professional, who had come into the event with high hopes of turning the tables following the 17.5-8.5 defeat his side suffered in a first stint as captain at CordeValle in California two years ago.
Talent-wise, the two teams are probably more evenly matched than ever before on the back of the change in the GB&I qualification process this year but, unlike the Ryder Cup, the Americans still have the bit between their teeth in this event and they’re going to take some stopping now.
Winners in the morning, when they were three-under-par with one concession, West Linton’s Gareth Wright and Kent man Richard Wallis were sent out first again after lunch and looked to be in control as they built up a two-hole cushion after seven.
A holed bunkered shot from Ryan Polzin at the par-3 eighth signalled a turnaround, though, and the same player sank three birdie putts in a row – one from 35 feet and two from 20 feet – at the 14th, 15th and 16th to secure a 3&2 triumph.
Along with Matt Dobyns, a right-hander who putts left-handed, the American pair’s best-ball in that match was an impressive nine-under.
“We were six-under for the front nine and only one up,” said Wright, last year’s Glenmuir British Club Professional champion. “Jon Bevan [Weir’s assistant captain] was just saying that we’d have won any of the other games this afternoon playing the way we did, so we can’t complain.”
With the middle two matches quickly being secured by the visitors as well – Nick Brennan and Dan Greenwood, the GB&I third pairing, could only muster one birdie between them in 13 holes – it came down to Scottish duo Greig Hutcheon and Graham Fox in the anchor match to try and salvage something for the home side and lift spirits heading into the second day.
Two down after six and still trailing by that margin with eight holes to go, they battled back, winning the 11th with a birdie and 12th with a par. Bob Sowards and Mike Small, two streetwise individuals and extremely good golfers into the bargain, went eagle-birdie at the 13th and 14th to go two up again and the faces in the home camp suddenly became as long as the shadows in the evening sunshine.
Fox, a two-hole morning winner with Englishman Jon Barnes, rolled in a five-foot birdie putt up the hill at the 16th to get it back to one, but Hutcheon, the Tartan Tour’s top man, was unable to convert an equally good chance at the 17th, albeit from around double the distance.
It left the Americans in the driving seat playing the last and, after neither Fox or Hutcheon could put pressure on their opponents by hitting the green, a comfortable half put a huge smile on Wronowski’s face as he reflected on his side’s work on day one.
“My boys caught fire out there this afternoon,” said the immediate past president of the PGA of America. “They gelled, the putts started going in, they got on a roll and kept it going. I’ve watched Ryder Cup and past PGA Cup and had an idea of what I wanted to do as a captain. A lot of it is down to personalities, as we saw with Paul Azinger with his pod system that proved successful in the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla.
“But this is just day one. There’s still three more sessions to come over the next two days so anything can happen, as I also know from Ryder Cups at both Celtic Manor and Medinah.”
For Weir, the only consolation was that his side still have time to make amends, with eight more points up for grabs today in foursomes and fourballs sessions before the concluding ten singles tomorrow. “Things like that are going to happen and it’s better on the first day as we’ve still got a chance to pull it back,” insisted the former Tartan Tour No 1. “We have to be very aggressive tomorrow. I noticed quite a lot of tentative putts today and I’d like to see the boys rolling the ball.”