GB&I wins Walker Cup for first time since 2003
ABERDEEN, Scotland—The U.S. Walker Cup team made things closer than most people expected at the start of Sunday's afternoon singles at Royal Aberdeen. Still, while the Americans won 6 1/2 of the 10 available points, it wasn't enough as Great Britain & Ireland secured a victory in the biennial matches for the first time since 2003.
With singles wins by Michael Stewart and Rhys Pugh, and half points from__Jack Senior__,Steven Brown and Paul Cutler, the GB&I side walked off with a 14-12 triumph, just the eighth time they've been victorious in the competition's 89-year history.
"That was quite an afternoon, wasn't it," said GB&I captain Nigel Edwards, his heart pumping a little more anxiously than he had hoped, considering his team's five-point lead after the morning foursomes session. "I said to the boys at lunch time we haven't done it yet. The Americans are great players."
To its credit, U.S. captain Jim Holtgrieve's team didn't fade into the howling Scottish breeze. Early victories from__Russell Henley__ and Jordan Spieth kept alive the chances of an historic comeback, as did a back-nine move by Peter Uihlein to secure his full point.
But the inevitable came true when Stewart closed out Patrick Rodgers, 3 and 2, and Senior holed a 35-foot birdie putt on the 18th to halve his match with__Nathan Smith__. Soon after, Pugh and__Paul Cutler__ both got their opponents dormie, meaning that the final point of the three that GB&I needed to claim victory had for all intents and purposes been secured.
Steven Brown ultimately walked off with the honor of officially capturing the triumphant 13 1/2th point when he won the 18th hole to halve his match with Blayne Barber.
"We're all kind of scratching our heads on that," said Nathan Smith when asked to put his finger on why the Americans struggled for most of the two-day event, one in which they seemed to be heavy favorites to win. The U.S. boasted eight players ranked in the top 20 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, including six in the top 10. Conversely, GB&I had only four in the top 20 and just two (Andy Sullivan and Tom Lewis) in the top 10.
A variety of factors, however, seemed to swing in the favor of the home side, starting with their comfort in playing a links-style course in front of a fair but supportive crowd. Only once since 1995 had the American team won on foreign soil.
Another intangible that worked in the GB&I's favor was the fickle weather. Saturday's play including intermittent rain and strong gusts from along the North Sea. Sunday lacked the precipitation, but included even stronger winds that made shot selection and trajectory tricky.
"I really think the difference was the conditions," Holtgrieve said. "Even though my guys have played in windy conditions, I'm just not sure that on the conditions like they were today, it does take some time to get used to those conditions. … I just think being around these conditions as much as [the GB&I team is] might have given them a little edge."
Despite putting in several hours of work in the five days leading up to the start of play in foursomes, the Americans couldn't seem to get comfortable with the format, winning just one of the eight matches and halving another.
While others might not have had faith in his 10 players, Edwards had an abundance, projection an attitude of confidence that trickled through his entire lineup. "He's just so passionate about the Walker Cup, it makes it easy for us to be so passionate about it as well," said Stewart, noting Edwards' membership on winning GB&I teams in 2001 and in 2003, where he won the clinching match. "The preparation was second to none."
Edwards was rightly proud of his entire team, but had a soft spot for his fellow Welshman, Pugh. The 17-year-old set to begin playing college golf at East Tennessee State this fall went 3-0 over the weekend, including an impressive Saturday afternoon singles win over Rodgers after finding himself 3 down after just five holes.
Cutler also won three of his four matches, halving the other to secure a GB&I best 3 1/2 points.
"It's feels amazing, it really does," said Stiggy Hodgson, the lone holdover from the GB&I team that lost the Cup in 2009 at Merion. "Two years ago, it was really horrible. It hurt so much, and to come back and to do the job this time. It's just unbelievable."
__GB&I's Tom Lewis/Michael Stewart halves USA's Jordan Spieth/Patrick Rodgers
GB&I's Jack Senior/Andy Sullivan df. USA's Peter Uihlein/Harris English, 3 & 2
GB&I's Paul Cutler/Alan Dunbar df. USA's Kelly Kraft/Blayne Barber, 2 & 1
GB&I's James Byrne/Rhys Pugh df. USA's Patrick Cantlay/Chris Williams, 5 & 3
__USA's Russell Henley df. GB&I's Tom Lewis, 4 & 2
USA's Jordan Spieth df. GB&I's Andy Sullivan, 3 & 2
GB&I's Jack Senior halved USA's Nathan Smith
GB&I's Michael Stewart df. USA's Patrick Rodgers, 3 & 2
USA's Peter Uihlein df. GB&I's Stiggy Hodgson, 2 & 1
GB&I's Steven Brown halved USA's Blayne Barber
GB&I's Rhys Pugh df. USA's Kelly Kraft, 2 & 1
USA's Chris Williams df. GB&I's Alan Dunbar, 1 up
USA's Harris English df. GB&I's James Byrne, 2 & 1
GB&I's Paul Cutler halved USA's Patrick Cantlay
__PLAYER POINT BREAK DOWN
____Great Britain & Ireland
__Steven Brown 1-1-1
James Byrne 2-1
Paul Cutler 3-0-1
Alan Dunbar 2-1
Stiggy Hodgson 0-2
Tom Lewis 1-2-1
Rhys Pugh 3-0
Jack Senior 2-1-1
Michael Stewart 2-1-1
Andy Sullivan 2-2
__Blayne Barber 0-2-1
Patrick Cantlay 2-1-1
Russell Henley 1-2
Harris English 2-2
Kelly Kraft 0-4
Patrick Rodgers 0-2-1
Nathan Smith 0-2
Jordan Spieth 2-0-1
Peter Uihlein 2-2
Chris Williams 2-1