Connor Syme finds best form at right time forWalker Cup
“I was really pleased to take him down,” admitted Syme of his 2&1 win over McNealy, the world No 2, in the last 64 of the US Amateur Championship at Riviera Country Club, where the 22-year-old eventually bowed out in the quarter-finals.
There was no hint of cockiness, though, in that statement because that’s certainly not Syme’s style and, in any case, he came out of their duel respecting McNealy perhaps more than any other player he’s locked horns with in his career.
“It was different playing against him as I got no claps at all,” added the Drumoig player, smiling. “But Maverick is an absolute gentleman – a really, really nice guy – and I’ve got massive respect for him. There was total respect both ways and he tweeted me after, saying he was looking forward to a rematch at the Walker Cup.”
Syme, who was world No 13 at the time of that victory but has since climbed into the top 10, is the first Fifer to get into the Great Britain & Ireland team for the biennial event since Lundin’s Sandy Stephen played in the 1985 contest at Pine Valley.
Victory in the Australian Amateur Championship at the beginning of 2016 provided Syme with the perfect springboard in his bid to bridge that 32-year gap, and it was close to mission accomplished when he shared top spot with Julian Suri, who has since become a first-time winner on the European Tour, at Gailes Links in one of the final qualifiers for this year’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
“Yes, I was lacking that big win, maybe,” acknowledged Syme, who is flying the Saltire along with Glencruitten left-hander Bob MacIntyre in one of golf’s best events on Saturday and Sunday, of finding his form at just the right time. “I did win the Battle Trophy, but I had a lot of top 10s without really excelling. The Open was really good. I enjoyed the experience at Royal Birkdale. I certainly took a lot from that going into the US Amateur.”
Prior to that event, Syme took the opportunity to get acquainted with the venue for this particular assignment.
“It’s a little bit different to Bel Air and Riviera,” he observed. “They’re very compact with a lot of houses around whereas this sits on a massive piece of land and is a bit more wide open off the tee. Length is more important around there than accuracy, I would imagine. It’s a good test of golf, definitely, and there will be a lot of fun.”
Bidding for just a third win on US soil in the event, Great Britain & Ireland will have Welshman Andrew Ingram as acting captain after Craig Watson, who was set to be at the helm for the first time in the match after succeeding two-time winning skipper Nigel Edwards 18 months ago, stepped down last week due to a family illness.
“We’ve definitely got a strong team with proven winners,” insisted Syme, who will have his parents, PGA professional Stuart and Deborah, as well as his girlfriend, Alanis, cheering him on out in California, of a side that includes Open Silver Medal winner Alfie Plant and Amateur champion Harry Ellis. “I don’t see why we can’t go out there and give the Americans a game. We’re out there to win, absolutely.”
Plant has just signed for Lagardere Sports, which has the likes of Phil Mickelson and Jon Rahm on its books, and Syme is also being tracked by a number of management companies, including the one set up by Niall Horan, the One Direction star and a close friend of Rory McIlroy.
“I’ve got a few ideas and I’m definitely going to play in the second stage of the European Tour Qualifying School in November as an amateur, but I’ve not totally decided what I’m going to do,” said Syme of what lies ahead for him after the Walker Cup. “It’s been a good progression over the last three years and this was my target for 2017. Off the back of it, there might be a few opportunities. I’ll have to wait and see what the chat is going to be like over the next couple of weeks, I suppose.”