Saltman has unfinished business

THERE have been moments on the golf course when time seemed to stand still for Lloyd Saltman. Moments when the level of concentration was so intense, it felt as if he was making something happen, but could not quite grasp the process. "I do feel that when push comes to shove, I can maybe pull something out of the fire," said the young Scot. "But I don't know why or how."

It's a special quality in an athlete to produce your best under the most intense pressure on the biggest stage. In football, George Best would talk about being 'in the zone' when the frantic speed of a game would suddenly shift to slow motion. And in golf, Tiger Woods believes when the competition is fiercest, the mind can condition the body to respond.

If legends of the calibre of Woods and Best are heady company for any young sportsman - and Saltman would be the first to confess his career so far can only be assessed in terms of aspiration rather than achievement - the 21-year-old does certainly seem to enjoy the knack of shining in the spotlight.

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When he qualified for the Open in St Andrews in 2005, Saltman rose to the occasion of competing in his first professional tournament with sufficient aplomb to finish in a share of 15th place. Rich Beem, the former US PGA champion, was so impressed he compared the graceful power of the tall, slim Scot to a young Davis Love III.

Later that summer, when the 40th Walker Cup match took place at Chicago Golf Club, Saltman would hole a 20-foot putt on the 18th green of his match against Kyle Reifers to win the tie one up. He played the closing three holes of singles that afternoon in three under thanks to an eagle, par, birdie finish.

"People talked to me about that putt at the last and I couldn't remember it," said the Craigielaw golfer. "I suppose I went into a state resembling auto-pilot. It's a weird feeling. Of course, there are plenty of times when it doesn't happen. But when it does, it always seems to be at the right time. I'll get into the clubhouse afterwards and think to myself 'How did that happen?' Hopefully, I'll be able to help the team again by doing something like that again this weekend."

In his final appearance as an amateur golfer before joining the professional ranks next week, Saltman is eager to erase the memory of an agonisingly narrow 12 - 11 defeat at the hands of the Americans two years ago. Great Britain and Ireland have won three of the last four matches against the USA and Saltman won't be content tomorrow unless he has helped fellow Scot, captain Colin Dalgleish, make it four wins out of five.

"I don't want this to come out the wrong way, but I find it very difficult to imagine the Americans beating us at Royal County Down," said GB&I's leading scorer with three points out of four in 2005. "They've got a great team, I know that, but we have a side which knows how to perform on a links and has been shrewdly prepared. Last time we had a lot of individual stars, this time we have more of a balanced team. Colin is a great captain, a very calm guy, who will help us to go out there and play."

The Americans billed the last Walker Cup, which was settled on the last hole of the last match, as the most thrilling since the biennial contest began in 1922. For Saltman, as always for those on the losing end, it was more difficult to revel in an opportunity lost.

"Looking back, I think the GB&I team was unfortunate to lose," he said. "Other than that, I tried to play my own game in Chicago and, luckily, I played well.

"Last time, we came so close. When I came through and won my singles match I was on such a high that Sunday. Then, after the team lost, it went to such a low so quickly and I found that hard. I'm sure the organisers of the GB&I team have taken a look at what happened last time to make sure we do better this time in front of the Irish fans. I'm really looking forward to playing in front of such enthusiastic galleries.

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"My best recollection of the match in 2005 in Chicago was how it was a good accomplishment for myself at 19 to make the team. It just wasn't in my plans, to be honest. What I hoped and wanted to do was to get into the GB&I side in 2007. But I had a good year in 2005.

"I won the silver medal in the Open at St Andrews and it was really exciting for me as a teenager to take part in the team event which is the pinnacle of amateur golf. For me personally, it wasn't quite as memorable as finishing in the top 15 at the Open. Maybe if we'd won in Chicago, it would have been different."

There is unfinished business for Saltman this weekend. The only member of the GB&I side ranked in the world's top ten amateurs - he's third - the Scot knows there's an extra level of responsibility on his shoulders and a greater expectation of performance. "I don't mind that at all," he smiled. "It's why I play. And I'd like another chance at County Down to make something good happen. "

Walker Cup graduates who made the grade as pros

• 1977: Shinnecock, Long Island: Sandy Lyle, Masters and Open champion

• 1981: Cypress Point, California: Hal Sutton, US PGA champion

• 1987: Sunningdale: Colin Montgomerie, eight-time European Order of Merit winner

• 1991: Portmarnock, Dublin: Phil Mickelson, world No 2

• 1993: Interlachen, Minnesota: Padraig Harrington, world No 7

• 1995: Royal Porthcawl, Wales: Tiger Woods, world No 1

• 1997: Quaker Ridge, New York: Justin Rose, world No 15

• 1999: Nairn, Scotland: Paul Casey, world No 21

• 2001: Sea Island, Georgia: Luke Donald, world No 14