Martin Dempster: Why Walker Cup is one of best events in golf

The GB & Ireland team celebrate victory in the 2015 Walker Cup at Royal Lytham & St Annes. Picture: Clint Hughes/Getty
The GB & Ireland team celebrate victory in the 2015 Walker Cup at Royal Lytham & St Annes. Picture: Clint Hughes/Getty
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T hey may not have the same razzmatazz as either the Ryder Cup or Solheim Cup but, for some golf aficionados, the Walker Cup and the Curtis Cup, the amateur equivalents, will always be far more enjoyable and, in some respects, it is easy to see why.

On checking, I was shocked to discover that this weekend’s Walker Cup contest at Royal Liverpool will be the sixth consecutive home match for Great Britain & Ireland that I have covered, a run stretching back exactly 20 years.

That first one, of course, was the 1999 encounter at Nairn, where, as members of the winning home side, we had our first glimpse of two stars in the making as English pair Paul Casey and Luke Donald both won four points out of four.

The teams were tied at 8-8 
heading into the final session and, though he had plenty of potent firepower behind him, what an honour it was for Graham Rankin, flying the Saltire that year along with Lorne Kelly and David Patrick, to lead the way as Peter McEvoy’s men ran out 15-9 
winners.

Equally memorable for me was a visit to Ganton, one of the best inland courses on these shores, for the 2003 match, which ebbed and flowed before the hosts eventually prevailed by a point.

Stuart Wilson and David Inglis, two Scots involved on that occasion along with Graham Gordon, both played their part by picking up two and a half points apiece, with Inglis claiming a notable scalp as he beat Ryan Moore, who went on to help the US claim victory in the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine in 2016, in the second-day singles.

It was tight again four years later at Royal County Down, where the Americans prevailed on this occasion in an event that involved a rich seam of talent in both teams, including four players who went on to become major winners in Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Danny Willett and Webb Simpson.

Add in Rickie Fowler and Billy Horschel in particular, but also Kyle Stanley, Jamie Lovemark, Chris Kirk and David Horsey and you can see why the event can often produce the next wave of professional stars, though not 
necessarily so.

Inglis, for example, was unable to make the transition, though he is now perfectly happy in his coaching role at Northwestern University outside Chicago, while Lloyd Saltman, who played in both 2005 and 2007, has seen his career in the paid ranks stall since making a bright start by getting it on to the European Tour.

The same goes, alas, for James Byrne and Michael Stewart, members of a winning home team in 2011 at Royal Aberdeen, where, on paper, GB&I were heavy underdogs against an American side that included Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantley, Russell Henley, Harris English and Peter Uihlein.

Like any team event – Tiger Woods in the Ryder Cup being the prime example, of course – individual reputations go out of the window in the Walker Cup and what a great job by Nigel Edwards, the GB&I captain in the Granite
City, on that occasion in helping
establish a crucial cushion that allowed his side to withstand a final-session onslaught. Of all the players I’ve encountered in the past 20 years, it was Edwards who came across more than anyone else as “Mr Walker Cup” and he was at the helm again in 2015 at Royal Lytham as the hosts 
triumphed by seven points – the biggest winning margin for GB&I in the event’s history.

What a thrill that was for Scottish trio Grant Forrest, Jack McDonald and Ewen Ferguson, who came off the subs’ bench as a replacement for Sam Horsfield and raised one of the biggest cheers you’ve ever heard at an amateur event as he beat Maverick McNealy, the world No 2 at the time, in the singles on day one.

Bob MacIntyre, now sitting in the top 15 in the Race to Dubai, produced an equally impressive performance in the 2017 tussle in Los Angeles when beating Cameron Champ and, for many, it is exciting to see what this weekend’s event – the 47th staging of the biennial bout – has in store.

It sees our own Craig Watson lead GB&I, with Sandy Scott and Euan Walker having secured deserved spots in the ten-strong side, into battle against an American team set to be captained by Nat Crosby, son of singing legend Bing, and Straight Down The Middle will certainly be what he’s looking for from his players at Hoylake.