Scottish duo Sandy Scott and Euan Walker are hoping that an inspirational talk from a battle-hardened former soldier can help them play a part in getting Great Britain & Ireland off to a flying start in the 47th Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool.
Home captain Craig Watson and his opposite number, Nathaniel Crosby, have both sprung surprises for the opening foursomes session at the Merseyside venue by leaving out Amateur champion James Sugrue and world No 1 Cole Hammer respectively.
However, it is straight into action for Kilmarnock (Barassie) man Walker and Scott from Nairn who are being sent out by compatriot Watson in the second of four morning matches against John Pak and Isaiah Salinda.
Much was made – and rightly so – of Ryder Cup player Tommy Fleetwood paying a visit to Hoylake earlier in the week to pass on some advice to the GB&I players as they bid to reclaim the trophy after a 19-7 hammering in Los Angeles two years ago.
However, Walker reckons a talk by Stewart Harris, an ex-infantryman from the Welsh Guards, could prove equally important over the two days, in which he will bid to join clubmates Jim Milligan (1989), Gordon Sherry (1995) and Jack McDonald (2015) in becoming a Walker Cup winner.
“Stewart talked to us about his experiences and about team bonding and the mental attitude,” said the 24-year-old, who earned his place in the ten-strong team by backing up an African Amateur Championship win earlier in the year with runner-up finishes in both the Amateur Championship and European Amateur Championship. “It was quite interesting to hear him. He was in Afghanistan, Iraq, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, all over the place. I have one friend back home who is in the army and I’ve heard a lot of stories about that kind of thing. It was interesting to hear it from someone else. He was pretty inspirational. He’s obviously faced a lot of hardship through his career. We are going to be facing hardship this week – obviously nowhere near the extent to what he has gone through – but a lot of the principles are applicable to golf.
“It’s really all about the mental fortitude. Whatever happens on the course, you can’t let anything alter your attitude for the next shot or the next hole. If the other team see you getting down then they are going to thrive on that. It’s all about showing no weakness and remaining strong and positive.”
Walker, who is set to turn professional in the near future, was jokingly described by one of his team-mates as the “dad” in the GB&I ranks. “I don’t think so,” replied the Ayrshireman to that. “I think that’s a bit harsh. I am one of the older players but certainly don’t feel like an elder statesman.”
At 21, Scott is one of the youngsters in Watson’s side. He was only one when a GB&I side that included Paul Casey and Luke Donald triumphed in this event at Nairn. “I can’t remember much about that,” he laughed. “But I’ve learned a lot of what the Walker Cup is about just from being at Nairn and people talking about it and having history all over the walls and stuff. I’ve been around a lot of Walker Cup stories and stuff. It’s been a goal of mine pretty much the whole amateur career, so it’s great to be here.”
His appetite was also whetted by the 2012 Curtis Cup at his home club, where GB&I overcame losing the opening session 4-0 to pull off a memorable victory. “I was a walking scoreboard carrier,” he said of that experience. “So I had the face paint on and everything. Yeah, it was great. I remember walking around some matches and admiring how well the girls hit the ball. It was pretty inspiring.”
While Walker headed down the M6 to make it here, Scott arrived from California, where the Texas Tech player claimed his second success on the US college circuit with victory in the Carmel Cup at Pebble Beach last weekend. “I played some good golf and it was great to get a good win at Pebble Beach,” he said. “Any time you’re playing good golf, it helps, and hopefully I can take that into this week.”
The home team have come out on top in 11 of the last 13 stagings and joining Scott and Walker in trying to extend that is Alex Fitzpatrick, the younger brother of European Tour player and 2013 Walker Cup player Matt.
• Saturday foursomes (GB&I names first): 8:30am Alex Fitzpatrick and Conor Purcell v John Augenstein and Andy Ogletree; 8:40am Sandy Scott and Euan Walker v John Pak and Isaiah Salinda; 8:50am Harry Hall and Conor Gough v Stewart Hagestad and Akshay Bhatia; 9am Tom Sloman and Thomas Plumb v Brandon Wu and Alex Smalley.