Nigel Edwards has admitted he finds it difficult to understand why Lloyd Saltman’s career has nose-dived after believing the Scot was set be among the posse of stars to come out of the 2007 Walker Cup.
The winning United States side at Royal County Down contained Webb Simpson, who became US Open champion five years later, as well as Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Billy Horschel, Chris Kirk and Kyle Stanley. They beat a Great Britain & Ireland team that was spearheaded by Rory McIlroy, now with four majors to his name and three European Tour money-list titles, and also included Danny Willett, David Horsey, John Parry and Rhys Davies, others who have gone on to win on their home circuit.
That match was Edwards’ fourth and final playing appearance in the biennial match, since when he has captained GB&I in three successive matches and is up for a fourth stint in 2017 if the R&A ask him to take on the job again.
No-one is in a better position to know what it takes for a leading amateur these days to be cut out for life as a professional, although the Welshman pointed to Saltman as an example of how nothing can be guaranteed.
Another member of that GB&I team eight years ago and a prolific winner as an amateur, including the Silver Medal in the 2005 Open Championship at St Andrews, Saltman reached the European Tour as well but has since slipped two divisions below the top circuit.
“It’s a difficult one,” replied Edwards, whose day job is as performance director for England Golf, when asked if he’d had an inclination about which Walker Cup team-mates and team members were destined for the top.
“In golf there’s no one size fits all. If we took every player on the European Tour, they’ve all got their own strengths. You’re dealing with international players, with people, with countries. You go to so many different countries nowadays, you need all sorts of different things.
“And there are some players, although they are talented, fail to deal with that. Even the very best don’t always do it. I’m sure we’ve all seen someone we thought was going to do it, and, for me, there was someone like Lloyd Saltman. I thought he was an exceptional player. Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened for Lloyd yet, and there are other players who have gone on.” Edwards, of course, would’t win any prizes for picking out McIlroy as a special talent, but Andy Sullivan, a three-times winner on the European Tour this season, and Shane Lowry, a WGC winner in August, are two he pinpoints as having caught his eye as amateurs.
Referring to Sullivan, a member of the winning home team at the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen, he said: “Sully was a bit under the radar for a while, but if you look at his performances from January that year to the match itself, he was our most consistent player.
“Nobody seemed to pick up on that because of Tom Lewis’s success in The Open and winning the St Andrews Links. But you ask people in England Golf and they very much picked up on Sully. As for Shane, I played with him in the Bonallack Trophy, and I could see he was a really good player. His touch on and around the greens and his shot-making skills were fantastic. He certainly didn’t have such an exceptional amateur career as Rory, but he did, of course, win the Irish Open in 2009 before turning professional.”
Edwards reckons Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell were “stand-out” players along with McIlroy, but he added: “The rest you never know. Peter McEvoy (another successful GB&I captain) recently talked about me not being the greatest player. I’d go along with that. But there’s nothing to say that if someone says a player is not talented, it doesn’t mean he can’t go on. Someone said of me that I’d never play for Wales, let alone GB&I.”