Dean Robertson urges Walker Cup contenders to 'play to win and don't be afraid'

Scot said chance to be first professional to captain Great Britain & Ireland ‘came out of the blue’

Contenders for the Great Britain & Ireland team for the 50th Walker Cup match next September are lucky young men. For starters, the milestone match against the United States is being held at Cypress Point, one of the game’s iconic courses in California. And, secondly, they’ll be led into battle there by someone who simply oozes both enthusiasm and passion for golf.

Dean Robertson’s historic appointment as the first professional to become the GB&I captain was only announced by The R&A on Thursday, yet that same day the 53-year-old Scot had already set the wheels in motion to ensure “no stone is left unturned” through being in contact with both his predecessor, Stuart Wilson, and Stephen Gallacher, who led Europe to victory in last year’s Junior Ryder Cup.

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“Stevie was one of the first people I spoke to with a view to getting to know about how he led the team in the Junior Ryder Cup and in terms of understanding the personalities and the dynamics of these young players,” Robertson revealed to The Scotsman. “I don’t know them yet whereas he has that experience, having seen them in a pressurised situation. As the outgoing captain, I have also reached out to Stuart. I will be having conversations with all of these sorts of people in order to formalise what we are going to do to allow these young players to be at their best.”

Dean Robertson is coming to the end of his 14th year working at University of Stirling, where he is now the high performance golf coach. Picture: University of Stirling.Dean Robertson is coming to the end of his 14th year working at University of Stirling, where he is now the high performance golf coach. Picture: University of Stirling.
Dean Robertson is coming to the end of his 14th year working at University of Stirling, where he is now the high performance golf coach. Picture: University of Stirling.

Blairgowrie’s Connor Graham was unbeaten in that Junior Ryder Cup match in Rome, where other stars for Gallacher included highly-rated English player Kris Kim and Sean Keeling, the Irish lad who won the Scottish Boys’ Open at Lundin last year. Graham, of course, made history in last year’s Walker Cup at St Andrews last year as the youngest player from either side to compete in the biennial contest and now Robertson is looking for every single top amateur in GB&I to be busting a gut to make his ten-man team.

“I’m looking to see an emergence of these players from the juniors ranks into the senior ranks,” said the former Scottish Amateur champion and 1999 Italian Open winner. “It’s a blank canvas. I want to see players doing well. I want to get winners in the team. Listen, it’s exciting. I’m really looking forward to helping these youngsters and giving them the opportunity to make teams and prepare them as well as we possibly can to go out there, to showcase their skills, enjoy the experience and make a name for themselves through having belief. Play to win. Don’t be afraid. You’ll look at the rankings and yes, of course, the Americans will be the favourites. Let’s be honest, it’s going to be no small undertaking to go out there and compete (GB&I’s only wins on US soil have come at Peachtree in 1989 and Ocean Forest in 2001), but that’s exactly what we’ll do.”

Robertson’s appointment came on the heels of back-to-back winning Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew becoming the first professional to be named as GB&I skipper for the Curtis Cup, the women’s Walker Cup equivalent, with her crack in that biennial bout at coming at Sunningdale in September. “It came about as a complete shot out of the blue and I was surprised but excited at the same time,” said Robertson, the high performance golf coach at University of Stirling, of his selection for a post that, in a competitive sense, will start when GB&I take on Continental Europe in the St Andrews Trophy at Royal Porthcawl this summer.

“Just before Christmas, the chairman of The R&A amateur championship committee, a chap called Charlie Maran, sent me an email saying that the terms of the Walker Cup had expired at the end of last year and they were looking to expand as normally the position had been filled by an amateur and they wanted to know if I’d consider applying for the position.

“It’s a voluntary role and, therefore, would require some commitment to being at some of these key events. I said ‘let me think about that for a second’ as it was a 100 per cent ‘yes’ as I already go to these events. So I applied and they got back to me just after the turn of the year, saying there would be an interview, so clearly I wasn’t the only person considered. When I was out at the winter training camp at Al Ain in the UAE with the University of Stirling, I did a video interview with Charlie and Euan Mordaunt (The R&A’s director of amateur events). It was quite in depth, lasting about an hour and a half. Then a couple of weeks ago they got in touch to say I was the person for the job but had to keep it under my hat until the announcement last week.”

The decision to do away with the tradition of the captain being an amateur has raised the odd critical voice, including former Scottish champion Hugh Stuart. “It’s not something I’ve given any thought to,” said Robertson, who no longer plays competitively due to suffering nerve damage in his neck, of that. “From my perspective as a professional and the role I’m in, what I will do is ensure that no stone is left unturned as I try to help these young talented players prepare as best they can and identify the skills they require for these matches and I’ll get them very much involved in that process. We need to be organised. There needs to be a structure to what we are going to be doing and when we go out there we have clarity and we go there to try and win.

“As a Walker Cup player myself in 1993, when we went to Interlachen (in Minnesota) we got exposed to greens that were so quick that we hadn’t experienced that. The players nowadays have more exposure to playing globally and playing on greens that are north of 13 on the stimpmeter. Whereas we went out there and were afraid, really.”



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