Walker Cup captain Stuart Wilson is a captain without a ship to sail due to Covid
He is a captain without a ship to sail. Since being appointed to lead Great Britain & Ireland’s men’s team earlier in the year, Stuart Wilson has been met with one frustration after another due to the Covid-19 pandemic. His planned recce for next year’s Walker Cup at Seminole in Florida was cancelled, as was the St Andrews Trophy, the event he was aiming to use to lay his foundations for the biennial clash with the Americans.
Played in September when Wilson was on a winning home team at Ganton in Yorkshire in 2003, it is being held next year in May, when the domestic season will barely have started. Add in a huge chunk of the current campaign being decimated by the coronavirus crisis and the 42-year-old Scot has a big old headache taking shape.
“I was thrilled to get the captaincy,” Wilson, a likeable lad when he was one of Scotland’s top amateurs and still exactly the same today, told Scotland on Sunday in between meetings at Forfar Golf Club, where he has been the managing secretary for 15 years. “Since hanging up the clubs, it’s something I’ve always had my eye on, to be honest.”
His appointment as compatriot Craig Watson’s successor came as no real surprise. Wilson, the 2004 Amateur champion, served for four years on the R&A’s boys’ selection committee, working with the next generation of GB&I stars in events such as the Jacques Leglise Trophy. In addition, he was also Europe’s Junior Ryder Cup captain in 2012 and 2014.
“The big problem with the Walker Cup next year is this May date,” he added of a change that is weather related. “That was always going to be a bit of a challenge due to the normal transition phase as some players get to the end of a season and turn professional and we had a few ideas about how we were going to tackle that. But, due to the situation with the coronavirus, it has made it worse because we are not going to have much of this season to base selection on and we’ve lost the St Andrews Trophy as well.
“We had a meeting before lockdown to put plans in place as events were getting cancelled and we are now having a meeting in early July to see where we go. We knew it was going to be a tough season, but not as bad as it is turning out.”
Wilson’s win in the Amateur Championship came on the Old Course at St Andrews, where he beat a certain Francesco Molinari in the quarter-finals. “It is a nice thing to look back on, though it takes someone like you to remind me about it,” he said, laughing, of that week’s work, which he backed up a month later by claiming the Silver Medal as leading amateur in the Open Championship at Royal Troon.
Molinari, of course, has gone on to make a much bigger impact in the game, getting his hands on the Claret Jug at Carnoustie just under two years ago then ripping up the Ryder Cup record books by claiming five points out of five in France, but Wilson is equally content about how his life has panned out.
“My life is an embarrassment of riches when you sit back and look at it,” he declared. “Maybe not in the material sense, but across the board, yeah. When I look back, I do have regrets. But more along the lines of not making a Walker Cup again in America and also not winning a Scottish Championship or Scottish Stroke Play, even though I came close.
“I don’t have any doubts that I did the right thing by not turning pro. My game was probably as good as it was going to get at that point. I’d been batting it around for a long time and, though I took some good scalps, a lot of the guys were younger than me then and still on an upward trajectory. It’s good to be honest to yourself and golf has been good to me and given me everything I have in life at the moment.”
Forfar Golf Club is in his blood, having followed in the footsteps of both his grandfather and father when he started playing at the Angus club at the age of eight. Wilson’s two children, 12-year-old Carrie and nine-year-old Finlay, are also now catching the golf bug. “They are starting to show a bit of interest, which is good, and it’s about letting them enjoy it without any pressure,” he said. “They come along to the coaching from Karyn Dallas. She does a great job with the kids and we have a really good junior programme going here just now, although it is on hold at the moment due to the restrictions in place following the reopening of courses last Friday.”
As for himself, Wilson’s golf these days is mainly social. “I enjoy that aspect of it,” he said. “I try to get the odd Thursday sweep at Forfar, which is nice as I can just roll out of the office straight on to the first tee. I’ve got my ticket at St Andrews (he’s a member of The Royal & Ancient Golf Club) as well and I try to get over there once a month.
“You always think your game is not too far away, but it’s the last little percentage to get it back where it was that takes a bit of finding. I’m still off scratch at the moment. But I look after the handicaps, so I can play off what I like these days (laughing).”
The Forfar club celebrates its 150th anniversary next year, having been the scene of a trio of little-known firsts that shaped the game around the world. It is the world’s first purpose-built 18-hole course in continuous use, the first 18-hole course in Scotland from inception and the earliest 18-hole course designed by Old Tom Morris.
“Along with St Andrews, Forfar was at the forefront of the development of the game and it laid down a template for future course design. The ironic thing is that we sat on all of this for 147 years before we actually worked it out,” joked Wilson. “But it’s a nice bit of history for the club and a good strapline to be able to put out there to try to raise awareness. It gives members a little bit of that feeling they are part of somewhere a bit special.”
Since reopening following a nine-week lockdown, a number of clubs in Scotland are enjoying an unexpected membership boost from golf being one of the first outdoor sports to be allowed as restrictions start to be eased. “It’s been good to see golf getting a bit of a profile off the back of this unfortunate situation in the world,” observed Wilson. “Getting open while gyms etc are closed has been good for golf and we’ve had a lot of membership enquiries.
“There are positives around, that’s for sure. It is an opportunity, without a doubt, and it’s about trying to look at how we can make the most of that. We’ve got our 150th anniversary next year and the club is a good place to be at the moment.”
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