Walker Cup: Britain & Ireland build solid lead

Ewen Ferguson, right, shakes hands with Maverick McNealy of the US following the Scot's win in the afternoon singles at the Walker Cup at Royal Lytham.  Picture: Clint Hughes/Getty
Ewen Ferguson, right, shakes hands with Maverick McNealy of the US following the Scot's win in the afternoon singles at the Walker Cup at Royal Lytham. Picture: Clint Hughes/Getty
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ON THE day the Labour Party declared a new leader, blue was the colour at Royal Lytham. In the opening 12 matches of the 45th Walker Cup, only four ended with United States red beside the result. Helped by notable victories by Scottish pair Jack McDonald and Ewen Ferguson, Great Britain & Ireland head into the second and final day with a 7-5 lead.

McDonald, a 22-year-old from Kilmarnock (Barassie), joined forces with Cormac Sharvin, his former room-mate at Stirling University, to chalk up the biggest foursomes win in the morning. The 5&4 triumph over Jordan Niebrugge, who finished as leading amateur in this year’s Open Championship at St Andrews, and Robby Shelton contributed to the home team heading into the afternoon singles leading 3-1.

At one point in the second session, GB&I led in six of the eight matches. In the end, though, captain Nigel Edwards was relieved to see Ferguson, Jimmy Mullen and Gavin Moynihan all hang on for precious points. Two halves, secured by Ashley Chesters and Gary Hurley, were also valuable.

Ferguson’s hard-earned one-hole victory over Maverick McNealy, the world No.2, was greeted by a huge roar from the Bearsden Golf Club contingent in the crowd. “I don’t think there is anyone there today,” said the 19-year-old after keeping his nerve to roll in a knee-knocking four-foot par putt to seal his notable success after racing the approach from 25 feet past the hole.

Three up after seven holes, Ferguson found McNealy a difficult man to shake off. His lead was down to one when the young Scot hit his drive at the 336-yard 16th to four feet and was conceded an eagle there. “I’d just hit a poor second at the 15th and used my anger about that to my advantage by hitting a nicely-shaped shot under pressure,” he said.

Initially named as first reserve, Ferguson only got into the team when Englishman Sam Horsfield pulled out due to “personal reasons”. The 2013 British Boys’ champion may have been disappointed to have then been left out of the opening session along with Grant Forrest, but he rose to the occasion against the highest-ranked player among the 
20 taking part in the event on the Lancashire coast.

“I see myself as an Ian Poulter or Sergio Garcia-type player and I love feeding off the crowd,” admitted Ferguson. “I’m delighted to get a point for Nigel and GB&I and now I can’t wait for tomorrow, when there’s another busload coming down from the golf club.”

Having earlier teamed up with fellow Englishman Ashley Chesters to put GB&I’s first point on the board in the morning, the lanky Mullen was round in four-under-par in beating Denny McCarthy in the afternoon. “I was more pumped up out there than I was at the Open in 2013,” said the 21-year-old from north Devon of losing out to Matt Fitzpatrick at Muirfield in a battle to be leading amateur. Irishman Moynihan, who won the Scottish Stroke-Play Championship at Panmure last year, was another double winner on a day when compatriot Paul Dunne, who led heading into the final round of this year’s Open, tasted defeat in both his outings.

While Bryson DeChambeau, the US Amateur champion, and Hunter Stewart both dug deep to chisel out one and and a half points from the top two singles after both had been one up with three to play, the morning play by the Americans was decidedly scrappy. Collectively, they were more than 20 over par in the foursomes, in which Stewart, the world No.5, took an air shot from the back of a bunker at the ninth.

In contrast, McDonald and Sharvin produced champagne golf as they did Stirling University and, in particular, head coach Dean Robertson proud. “We played awesome and the way we were striking the ball it would have been difficult for anyone to beat us out there,” said McDonald, who was watched by Gordon Cosh, a Walker Cup player himself 50 years ago.

One up after eight, Forrest eventually succumbed to Scott Harvey when his 37-year-old opponent rolled in a 55-foot birdie putt at the 17th for a 2&1 success.