Luke Donald has passion for Walker Cup captaincy, says Stuart Wilson

Stuart Wilson, who leads Great Britain & Ireland into battle in this weekend’s 48th Walker Cup in Florida, reckons his successor could be someone like Luke Donald from the professional ranks.

Luke Donald acknowledges the crowd during a winning Walker Cup appearance for Great Britain & Ireland at Nairn in 1999. Picture: Andrew Redington /Allsport

Donald, who played in a winning team at Nairn in 1999 then again at Sea Island in Georgia two years later, both under Peter McEvoy, told Global Golf Post this week that he would “certainly consider” the chance of being a future captain in the biennial bout.

Appointed by the R&A, the tradition has been for the honour to be afforded to former Walker Cup players still in the amateur game, as is the case with Wilson, who played in a triumphant team at Ganton in 2003.

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However, with most players in teams from the past decade or so using the match as a stepping stone for a career in the professional ranks, even someone like Sir Michael Bonallack, one of the legends of the amateur game, is talking about a possible change being in the offing.

Stuart Wilson, the European Junior Ryder Cup captain, with fellow Scot and team member Bradley Neil at the opening ceremony ahead for the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

“We are running out of people who have Walker Cup experience,” Bonallack, the former R&A secretary, who played nine teams against the Americans, including two matches as the GB&I skipper, also told Global Golf Post. “Perhaps we should have a pro as a captain.”

If that happens, Donald would be an obvious candidate while others could include Stephen Gallacher, Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, the 2014 winning Ryder Cup captain having paid a visit to Seminole on Wednesday to offer some advice to the GB&I players ahead of the two-day clash on Saturday and Sunday.

His visit came two days after Matthew Fitzpatrick, who played in the 2013 edition before going on to become a multiple European Tour winner and currently a world top-20 player, had done likewise in his bid to try and help a GB&I group that includes his younger brother, Alex.

“It’s not for me to set the policy on that,” said Wilson, the 2004 Amateur champion from Forfar in reply to being asked about the possibility of a professional being offered the GB&I captaincy either straight after him or some time in the future.

“I’ve heard Luke speaking in the past, even in his Ryder Cup days, that he has used his Walker Cup experiences to get him prepared. With players like Matt and Paul coming down this week, the Walker Cup obviously holds a special place in these guys hearts and quite rightly so.

"They are obviously still very keen and passionate about it, even though it has been a stepping stone in their career to greater things.

“It (the captaincy) has always historically gone with a former player, but the majority of the guys in the last few teams have gone on to turn pro, so how the captaincy is going to be allocated going forward is probably something that has to be considered.”

Only Geoff Marks, who achieved the feat at Peachtree in 1989, and McEvoy in that 2001 match have tasted victory on US soil as the GB&I captain, but Wilson and his players are feeling quietly confident thanks to a combination of their own belief and something McGinley had to say in his pep talk.

“We had some interesting information from Paul yesterday, which I can’t share as we don’t want the Americans to hear about it,” said Fitzpatrick, the only survivor from a 2019 defeat at Royal Liverpool under Craig Watson.

“But it was very valid information and something the whole team found interesting and we can use that to our advantage. Hopefully we can act on it and bring home the trophy.”

Was that advice about how to play the course? “I cannot comment on that,” he added, laughing, saying that his big brother’s advice was also “classified information”.

Captained by Nathaniel Crosby, Bing’s son, for the second match running, the US side contains four players in the top 10 on the World Amateur Golf Rankings, including second-ranked Pierceson Coody.

Nairn’s Sandy Scott, the world No 8 and highest-placed GB&I player, was named in Wilson’s 10-man side before withdrawing due to a wrist injury, leaving 12th-ranked Fitzpatrick as the leading light in the visiting ranks.

“Preparation hasn’t been what we were hoping for obviously,” admitted Wilson of the 2020 fixture list being badly hit due to the Covid-19 pandemic then a plan to hold the Home Internationals at Royal Dornoch last month as a selection event also falling by the wayside due to restrictions.

“But that prep started before March 2020, when we first met up as selectors to start considering this match. I was chairman of the selectors for the boys’ team and there was a bit of succession planning there.

“Fifty per cent of the team have played together on GB&I teams before in Jacques Leglise Trophies and we are all very familiar with each other to the point that it’s like old friends meeting up in some respects.”

Seminole, an ultra-private club in Juno Beach, is staging the match for the first time, having been showcased just under a year ago when it hosted the TaylorMade Driving Relief event that saw former Walker Cuppers Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, plus Matthew Wolff, raise more than $5.5 million for Covid-related causes.

Wind has been a factor in the practice rounds this week, adding the challenge of tackling slopey greens that are running at 14 on the stimpmeter.

“None of us are used to it,” said Irishman John Murphy, the 2018 St Andrews Links Trophy winner, of the lightning-fast surfaces. “A lot of tour pros aren’t even used to it. Add wind on top of that and green speed is going to be pretty interesting. There could be a bit of carnage out there at times.”

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