AS long as Gary Wolstenholme is around, neither the R&A or USGA, the two bodies involved in the event, should need to fork out a single pound or dollar to promote the Walker Cup. A decade has passed since the Englishman made the last of his six appearances for Great Britain & Ireland in the biennial bout, but his passion for the event is unrivalled.
Even though he should probably feel hurt about not receiving an official invitation to attend next weekend’s match at Royal Lytham, there was a sparkle in Wolstenholme’s eyes when he chewed the fat on Walker Cup matters past and present during the Scottish Senior Open at Archerfield Links.
“The Walker Cup was a massive part of my life,” recalled the 55-year-old, who sits behind both Joe Carr and Michael Bonallack in appearances for GB&I but is the all-time points leader in the event for a player on this side of the Atlantic. “Winning on American soil [at Sea Island, Georgia, in 2001] was fantastic and we won comfortably [15-9]. It was just such a rarity, but we had such a good team [including Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald and Marc Warren].”
He was also part of a tasty winning line-up at Nairn two years earlier. “That was such an amazing team and Paul Casey and Luke Donald didn’t lose, so we knew we would have six points, which was fantastic,” added Wolstenholme. The hosts won the final-day singles 7-1, the tone being set by Drumpellier’s Graham Rankin as he vindicated captain Peter McEvoy’s decision to send him out first. “McEvoy’s management was fantastic and he was a genius at Nairn,” said the two-times Amateur champion. “Graham Rankin was the perfect example. He came out on the Sunday and, if you’d thrown a bit of meat at him, he would have been all over it.”
While he can hardly be blamed, surely, Wolstenholme has been all over a win he recorded against Tiger Woods at Royal Porthcawl, where the GB&I team also included Stephen Gallacher, Barclay Howard and Gordon Sherry, for the past 20 years. “It will be on my tombstone,” he declared, smiling. “He was, undoubtedly, the world’s best amateur golfer. I beat him once, but that’s what everyone will remember.
“Everybody wanted to be drawn against him. Peter McEvoy summed it up well. He said, ‘if there was one person I would want to play Tiger on the first day it would be you because you just play your own game whatever happens’. Although Tiger gave me three shots out of bounds, to get that two-point cushion going into the second day was huge. That’s the one thing I miss about the amateur scene. You don’t play any match-play and I loved it.”
Based these days at Carus Green in Cumbria, Wolstenholme is hoping the familiarity of the venue through playing the Lytham Trophy will give GB&I a “big advantage” next weekend but reckons the home captain, Nigel Edwards, has his “work cut out” due to the United States team having more experience in their ranks, including 52-year-old Mike McCoy.
“The Walker Cup now is a one off, you might play two if you are lucky,” he confessed. “These young guys have one chance and that’s it. So all the little records I’ve set are unlikely to be beaten, which I’m proud of, though it’s sad that GB&I are not going to get the true experienced players any more as there’s no continuity now.”
He fears the amateur game has “lost its lustre” and came up with an interesting idea to try and stop the same thing happening with the Walker Cup. “What about picking a pro as captain,” he asked, having seen both Andrew Coltart and Jean Van de Velde fill that role for Europe in the Palmer Cup, a college equivalent of the Walker Cup. “Colin Montgomerie or Padraig Harrington? If you got someone like Padraig, it would be awesome. It would be a fillip for everybody and I’m sure that if Padraig was asked, he’d love to do it. Monty would, too, I’m sure.”
If tradition prevents the R&A from going down that route, Wolstenholme reckons a Scot should be in the frame if Edwards steps down after his third match at the helm. “People say we are running out of captains, but what about Craig Watson?,” he said of the 1997 Amateur champion. “He captained Scotland brilliantly, so give him a chance. There’s also Stuart Wilson and Jim Milligan.”
Wolstenholme will relish watching the 45th Walker Cup but reckons the event will be underplayed in the English media. “There isn’t enough media coverage south of the Border and I think that is why golf is struggling,” he declared. “The Walker Cup needs live coverage all day to develop stories and help viewers get to know the players and maybe Sky (the event will move to the satellite broadcaster as part of the R&A’s deal for the Open Championship) can do that.”
Stressing the importance of TV coverage for his beloved sport, he added: “Nick Faldo was a cyclist and a swimmer but he watched The Open on TV and, after that, he wanted to be a golfer.”