IRISHMAN Niall Kearney was the hero as GB&I recorded a first PGA Cup triumph on US soil after a dramatic conclusion to the 27th club pros’ clash at CordeValle.
In blistering heat in California, the visitors recovered from a “terrible” start in the concluding singles to claim a 13.5-12.5 victory, which they celebrated by throwing captain Jon Bevan into a pond at the 18th green.
With the scores tied at 12.5-12.5, it all came down to the final match between Kearney, a 27-year-old Dubliner, and Alan Morin, a 46-year-old Florida-based pro who was making his second appearance in the event.
One up playing the last, Kearney, who also played for GB&I in the Walker Cup on US soil in 2009, sent his third shot at the par-5 sailing over the back of the green into thick rough.
With Morin safely on the putting surface, it looked as though the Americans might steal the half point they needed to retain the trophy for a fifth match running.
However, Kearney played a delightful flop shot over a bunker and then, with Morin having been conceded his par, rolled in a six-foot putt to create a slice of history.
It is just the sixth time that GB&I have come out on top in the biennial match and the first success on this side of the Atlantic sparked scenes of unbridled joy.
“That is probably the best putt I’ve holed in my career,” said a delighted Kearney after helping the visitors win the singles 5.5-4.5 despite being down in five of the top seven matches early on in the closing exchanges.
“I didn’t have a good yardage for my third shot at the last and was caught between a gap wedge and wedge. I didn’t fancy the gap wedge but the wedge came out hot from the semi-rough.
“However, I had a nice lie through the back of the green and I’d also played a shot from that area in a practice round. I was nervous over the putt but, fortunately, I managed to hole it.”
Referring to GB&I’s sluggish start to the session, he added: “I remember looking at one scoreboard and saying to myself ‘come on guys get it done as I didn’t fancy it coming down to my game’.”
Sent out first, West Linton’s Gareth Wright was three-under for 17 holes as he went down 2&1 to Michael Block, but red gradually started to be replaced by blue in other matches.
David Dixon, a former European Tour winner, led the way for GB&I as he thumped Stuart Deane 4&3 in a match that included a controversial incident similar to the one earlier in the day in the Solheim Cup in Germany.
Deane said he’d not conceded a three-inch putt to his opponent at the 11th and claimed the hole after Dixon had picked up his ball.
However, following the intervention of US captain Allen Wronowski, the two players didn’t play the 14th hole as that was conceded to GB&I.
On an afternoon when every thrust from the visitors was matched by the hosts, other wins for GB&I were delivered by Graham Fox, Jason Levermore and Alex Wrigley.
Up against Ben Polland, Clydeway Golf’s Fox found himself two down after eight before reeling off five birdies in a row as he went on to beat his 25-year-old opponent 4&2.
“I finally got a good feel with my putter after holing nothing for two days,” said 38-year-old Fox, who illuminated that devastating burst by holing a 45-footer at the 11th.
“As I was walking down the seventh hole, I could see there was a lot of red on the board and said, ‘you need to make things happen as Ben is not going to give you any presents’.
“We’ve all tried out guts out this week and I said to (assistant captain) Albert MacKenzie, ‘tell the other guys I’ve birdied five holes in a row because if I could do it, so could they’.”
Levermore, a 36-year-old who is attached to Channels Golf Club in Essex, took his tally to four points out of five as he stormed back from three down with eight to play to beat Jamie Broce on the last.
The Englishman holed his second for an eagle at the 11th and, as had been the case on the opening two days, Levermore’s long putter was like a magic wand on the slick CordeValle greens. He rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt at the 16th to get back to all square then repeated the feet from around eight feet.
As the tension grew, Lee Clarke had to settle for a half with Sean Dougherty after badly pulling his third shot at the last and it looked as though Kearney, having already lost the 17th to Morin, could also have been left licking his wounds before he joined a long list of Irish golfers to make the headlines over the past few years.
“The board was red early on and we didn’t start very well,” said Bevan, who played in the event twice before serving as Russell Weir’s assistant in the 13-13 draw at Slaley Hall two years ago. “Once our boys got through the first four holes I felt the course opened up for them.
“All week I’ve been calm, which suggests to me that I had total belief in my guys while respecting the talent of the opposition.”
The Rhos on Sea pro added: “Niall Kearney is looking at eight foot of California real estate like it’s the easiest thing in the world and that’s the reason he was at No 10 because he is so calm. He doesn’t get the nickname ‘two beats’ for nothing.
“There’s not a lot going on in the chest area when he’s playing but I might have a word with Niall about playing the last an easier way. He coped with every situation and I proud of him. I’m proud of every one of them. They gave everything and they have left everything in CordeValle. There’s nothing left.
“It get rids of that thing that we’re not competitive or this event doesn’t mean anything. Our PGA pros are a class above, as are the US guys. We’ve watched the highest standard of golf here.”
Singles results (US names first)
Michael Block bt Gareth Wright 2&1
David Dixon bt Stuart Deane 4&3
Graham Fox bt Ben Polland 4&2
Jamie Broce lost to Jason Levermore one hole
Omar Uresti bt Michael Watson one hole
Matt Dobyns bt Cameron Clark 2&1
Sean Dougherty halved with Lee Clarke
Bob Sowards bt Paul Hendriksen two holes
Grant Sturgeon lost to Alex Wrigley 3&1
Alan Morin lost to Niall Kearney one hole