LIKE the “Big One” a few miles along the Lancashire coast at Blackpool, Ewen Ferguson’s Walker Cup experience is becoming a roller-coaster ride. Initially left out of the Great Britain & Ireland team before stepping up from first reserve, the 19-year-old from Bearsden was feeling deflated again after being omitted from today’s opening foursomes at Royal Lytham along with one of his compatriots, Grant Forrest.
While Barassie’s Jack McDonald has been tossed straight into the action in a partnership with Irishman Cormac Sharvin – the pair were team-mates at Stirling University over the past couple of years – Ferguson and Forrest were the pair left out by Nigel Edwards, the home captain, in his selections for the first of four sessions in the 45th biennial clash with the United States.
Based on the fact Ferguson and Forrest won two games out of three in the same format when helping Scotland become European champions in Sweden in July, it was a mild surprise, though in fairness to Edwards, he had other tried-and-tested pairings at his disposal, including Irish duo Paul Dunne and Gary Hurley, a team that has picked up eight and a half points out of nine in top team tournaments over the past couple of years.
“I was on the putting green with headphones on and he [Edwards] challenged me to a putting competition,” said Ferguson, the highest-ranked of the Scottish trio in the ten-strong team, in telling how the disappointing news had been broken to him. “I hit one putt and he said ‘you’re playing really well, but I’m going to let Grant and you sit tomorrow morning, and it’ll make you come out firing on all cylinders’.
“It’s quite sad, really, but two guys have to be left out and it’s a hard one for Nigel as everyone’s playing well. Unfortunately, it’s got to be us missing out in the morning, but we’ll come out and support the boys.”
Bryson DeChambeau, the US Amateur and NCAA champion, will be in the same boat before he enters the action along with both Ferguson and Forrest in the afternoon singles, where McDonald and Sharvin make way in the home ranks. Ferguson is up against Maverick McNealy, the world No 2, while Forrest faces Scott Harvey, a 37-year-old and one of the two mid-amateurs in the American side.
“I just can’t wait to get going as it’s such a big event,” added Ferguson. “I’m just a little guy from Bearsden having fun and then all of a sudden people want to watch you play, that’s really enjoyable and something that I could get used to. That’s one of my favourite parts of the game. That’s why I can’t wait for the tournament to start, just show people what I can do with a golf ball.”
While Forrest impressed onlookers such as BBC commentator Ken Brown and John Huggan, a former Scottish international, in his final practice round, part of the reason for his omission from the opening session may have been down to a lack of experience at this weekend’s venue. Unlike the others in the GB&I team, the Craigielaw player has never played in the Lytham Trophy. “All you can really say about this course is bunkers – they are everywhere,” said Forrest, who beat the Americans wearing European colours in the Palmer Cup at Walton Heath last year and is now determined to repeat the feat on an even bigger stage. “While most of the other guys have played the course heaps of times, my first visit was when we came for a squad session in July and I didn’t really know where I was going. But, with the help of the other guys, I’ve got a lot more comfortable with the lines off the tees and the best way to play this course as it is one that you really have to play your way around.”
Renowned for being a steady player, McDonald, who is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Gordon Cosh, a member of the GB&I team in Baltimore in 1965, will have a big-hitter for company in Sharvin, who knocked a drive more than 400 yards on to the 18th green earlier in the week. “I’m ready to go now,” declared the 22-year-old Ayrshireman. “It’s funny. We’ve played quite a bit of golf this week getting used to the course, but you don’t really want to play all your good golf well before the event starts. You want to conserve your energy as there will be a lot of nervous energy over the next couple of days.”
With five world top-ten players – McNealy, DeChambeau, Hunter Stewart, Lee McCoy and Robbie Shelton – in their ranks, the Americans head into the contest as favourites and look a much more harmonious bunch than the one that lost the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles last year. “I observed what happened and took it into account,” said the US captain, John “Spider” Miller, of unrest in the team room in Perthshire that led to Tom Watson being slaughtered afterwards by Phil Mickelson. “Each one of my players has as much input as I have.”
However, the combination of home advantage and a similarly strong American side – it included Jordan Spieth – being put to the sword at Royal Aberdeen four years ago is fuelling hopes of a GB&I triumph. “We have been watching video of it [a 14-12 win] and it’s a huge inspiration for us,” admitted Irishman Gavin Moynihan.