IF RECENT history is anything to go by, this weekend’s Walker Cup at Royal Lytham will involve a handful of players in the American ranks that we can expect to see winning PGA Tour events and challenging for majors in the next few years.
In 2007, for example, the triumphant United States team at Royal County Down included Webb Simpson, who, of course, went on to become a US Open champion, as well as current Scottish Open title-holder Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk and Kyle Stanley.
While beaten at Royal Aberdeen, the US side in 2011 was also pretty tasty, primarily because it contained a certain Jordan Spieth, though his team-mates in the Granite City included Harris English, Russell Henley and Peter Uihlein, the 2013 European Tour Rookie of the Year.
So, who should we be keeping an eye on in the 45th staging of the biennial match against Great Britain & Ireland this weekend? As this year’s NCAA and US Amateur champion, the slightly eccentric Bryson DeChambeau – he wears a Ben Hogan-style cap and plays with a set where all the irons and wedges are the same length – certainly looks a star in the making, as do world No 2 Maverick McNealy and Jordan Niebrugge, who was the leading amateur in this year’s Open Championship at St Andrews.
The future of American golf definitely won’t lie in the hands of Mike McCoy, but, for me anyway, his involvement in the amateur game’s showpiece team event is a fascinating aspect of the two-day encounter at the Open Championship venue in Lancashire. Why? Well, he’s 52, works as an insurance executive and, in short, isn’t your typical modern-day Walker Cup player.
To put McCoy’s involvement in perspective, he is double the age of GB&I’s oldest player – Englishman Ashley Chesters – and old enough to be the father of all his team-mates apart from 37-year-old Scott Harvey.
McCoy and Harvey are the two mid-amateurs in the American team and well done to the USGA for introducing the fairly recent requirement that a couple of spots in a ten-man team should be reserved for that category, ie players 25 and over.
It’s something that the R&A should seriously consider copying despite the fact its Mid-Amateur Championship has been consigned to the scrapheap along with one that used to be run by the Scottish Golf Union. While there is not necessarily a need to bring them back, there is certainly a need for the GB&I team to have either a McCoy, Harvey or Nathan Smith, who played at Royal Aberdeen at the age of 33, in it in years to come. It is likely that the majority, if not all, of the ten members of the home team at Royal Lytham will have switched to the paid ranks by the time the next match comes round in two years’ time. The captain, whether it is Welshman Nigel Edwards for a fourth stint or someone new, will be left with a blank sheet of paper and, consequently, have little or no chance of pulling off a win on US soil.
The amateur game at the top level shouldn’t just involve the young guns.
More than ever, it needs to embrace those “career amateurs”, the ones that work as bankers, bakers or whatever, yet still go out most weekends between April and September and give it their all despite competing on an uneven playing surface against the full-time amateurs.
In Scotland alone, we’ve got three players at present that could be contenders for mid-amateur spots in Matthew Clark, Graeme Robertson and Barry Hume, the latter being an inspirational figure at present as he makes no secret of the fact that he is enjoying his golf again as a reinstated amateur.
At the recent South East District Open, a Scottish Golf Union Order of Merit event at Turnhouse, it was refreshing for this correspondent to see Clark, a 33-year-old, clearly having earned the respect of someone like Connor Syme, one of the country’s brightest young prospects, through being team-mates for this year’s Home Internationals in Ireland.
“I would like to think that someone like Connor learned a bit from being around myself and Barry Hume at Royal Portrush,” said Clark, who squeezes in his golf into a busy life as a senior banking manager, as well as being a husband and father. “In my case, I think it showed him there is a different way of getting there because I only hit 100 balls a week.”
Having battered thousands of balls in preparation, let’s hope that Ewan Ferguson, Grant Forrest and Jack McDonald, the three Scots in the GB&I team, are among the stars this weekend and become our new wave of European talent in the not too distant future. Let’s also enjoy watching McCoy seeing a “lifelong dream” being realised, though, and hope GB&I go down the same route for future clashes.