The 26th PGA Cup, the club pros’ equivalent of the event taking place at Gleneagles in just over a year’s time, gets underway this morning at Slaley Hall in Northumberland, where Russell Weir, the home captain, has a considerably stronger ten-man side at his disposal than the one he had when GB&I succumbed 17½-8½ at CordeValle in California two years ago.
Having seen the Americans also win by exactly the same score at The Carrick on Loch Lomond in 2009, the Belfry-based PGA decided it was time to shake up the qualification process in a bid to create a more level playing field in the biennial event.
In the past, GB&I have primarily gone into the event with a team of individuals who perhaps only play competitive golf on an infrequent basis, the line-up on this occasion is packed with players who are teeing it up week after week, yet are still fully-qualified PGA members.
The four Scots include Banchory’s Greig Hutcheon, who is on course to top the Tartan Tour money list for the third time in four years, and West Linton’s Gareth Wright has also had a strong year and played in all four rounds in this year’s Open Championship.
Aberdonian Scott Henderson, a former European Tour Rookie of the Year, has bags of experience, too, as does Graham Fox, who lifted the SPGA title last year and is now attached to Clydeway Golf in Uddingston.
A win for GB&I over the next three days would be their first since the 2005 match at Ireland’s K Club and Weir said: “The guys are very pumped up and ready to go.”
The 62-year-old former Cowal club pro added: “We have ten rookies on the team this year but I don’t think the fellas realised how big the event was until they got here. They are getting a real feel for it and I am sure that, while it is their first time, they won’t want it to be their last.”
It may be exactly that, though, for Wright if he earns a card for the European Tour, and he said: “This is our Ryder Cup,” he said. “It’s the pinnacle of our playing career.
“It’s an honour to represent your country at any time but, in this format, it’s as high an accolade as we’re going to get.”
GB&I: Benn Barham, Jonathan Barnes, Nicolas Brennan, David Callaway, Graham Fox, Daniel Greenwood, Scott Henderson, Greig Hutcheon, Richard Wallis, Gareth Wright.
United States: JC Anderson, Matt Dobyns, Kelly Mitchum, Roid Perry, Ryan Polzin, Mark Sheftic, Mike Small, Jeff Sorenson, Bob Sowards, Chip Sullivan.