Eye-catching Kris Nicol sweeps into Walker Cup frame

FRASERBURGH'S Kris Nicol has leapt ahead of David Law, Philip McLean and Jordan Findlay in the race to back up James Byrne's bid to provide a North-East representation in next year's Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen.

Nicol, who wasn't even capped at full level a year ago, is one of four Scots in the Great Britain & Ireland squad for the match against the Americans, joining Banchory's Byrne, Ross Kellett of Colville Park and Troon Welbeck's Michael Stewart.

Unlike the other three, Nicol wasn't in a similar squad for this year's St Andrews Trophy, a match against the Continent of Europe that is used by the GB&I selectors to shape the team for the Walker Cup.

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However, the 26-year-old has put himself in the frame for an appearance in the biennial event on his own doorstep thanks to some eye-catching performances, notably finishing runner-up in both the Lytham Trophy and Irish Open Stroke Play Championship.

Nigel Edwards, the GB&I captain, said Nicol had earned his place in the 23-strong squad as he looked to be "a player with great potential". The Welshman added: "When Kris was in contention this year, he didn't look overawed. In terms of international golf, he is quite a late developer, but there is always room for older players, as I proved myself."

Admitting he is keen to encourage as much local support as he can muster at Balgownie, Edwards is hoping their inclusion in the squad will encourage both Nicol and Byrne to "push forward" between now and the team of ten being picked next August. That gives the likes of Hazlehead teenager Law, the double Scottish champion last year, Peterhead's McLean and Findlay, Nicol's clubmate and former British Boys' champion, plenty of time to reignite their claims, with the door being left open to players who are not in the squad.

"It would be nice if we were in a position where we are choosing the ten players from 20 as opposed to having eight and needing to add two to eight," said Edwards when asked about the merits of some of the Scottish hopefuls. "Jordan's form is on the rise, getting back to near where he was before he went to college in the States. After making a lot of progress, David had gone back a bit, though some injury problems were the reason for that.He finished the season strongly and there is no reason why he can't force his way on to the team."

The squad, which will take part in a training get-together at Portmarnock next month before visiting Royal Aberdeen next spring - the match itself is on 10-11 September - includes all 12 of the players who represented GB&I's constituent countries at the World Amateur Team Championship.

In addition to helping Scotland, the defending champions, finish a creditable fifth behind winners France in Argentina, Byrne further underlined his rising status by tying for fourth in the individual standings with American Peter Uihlein, the world No 1.

"It is interesting that James seems to do better away from college tournaments," noted Edwards of the Scot, who reached the final of this year's Amateur Championship at Muirfield, where he lost to South Korean Jin Jeong.

"We need strong players against the Americans, no doubt about that, and James's performance in the Eisenhower Trophy performance can give him the confidence to land a couple of big wins."

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Stiggy Hodgson, who won two points in the defeat at Merion last year, is the sole player in the squad with a Walker Cup appearance to his name. The 21-year-old heads a sizeable English contingent that also includes Laurie Canter and Tyrrell Hatton, both of whom qualified for this year's Open at St Andrews, as well as 2009 British Boys' champion Tom Lewis and Chris Lloyd.

"I have no doubt that every one of the 23 players we have selected could acquit themselves well in next year's match, said Edwards. "But it is up to them to show that they are ready for the challenge that the USA will present by performing with distinction and backing up their most recent performances during the season to come."

GB&I squad: James Byrne (Banchory); Laurie Canter (Saltford); Paul Cutler (Portstewart); Alan Dunbar (Rathmore); Rhys Enoch (Truro); Oliver Farr (Ludlow); Tyrrell Hatton (Harleyford); Billy Hemstock (Teignmouth); Stiggy Hodgson (Sunningdale); Alastair Jones (Radyr); Ross Kellett (Colville Park); Tom Lewis (Welwyn Garden City); Chris Lloyd (The Kendleshire); Kris Nicol (Fraserburgh); Matthew Nixon (Ashton-under-Lyne); Eddie Pepperell (Drayton Park); Kevin Phelan (University of North Florida); Rhys Pugh (Vale of Glamorgan); Jack Senior (Heysham); Matthew Southgate (Thorpe Hall); Michael Stewart (Troon Welbeck); Andy Sullivan (Nuneaton); Darren Wright (Rowlands Castle)