Windy at Royal LiverpoolSeptember 5, 2019

Walker Cup 2019: Traditional 'British' weather might once again be GB&I's secret weapon

Stewart Hagestad
Jan Kruger/R&AStewart Hagestad in action during a practice round ahead of the 2019 Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool.

HOYLAKE, England — There is an old saying in Britain: Everyone talks about the weather but no one ever does anything about it.

A couple of weeks after an unexpected heatwave blistered the nation, an autumnal cool has descended from the north just in time for the 47th Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool. More importantly, a bit of a “hoolie” (strong wind) over the last few days has given the United States side a taste of the conditions that have carried Great Britain & Ireland squads to five wins in the last six matches on this side of the Atlantic. It was so bad on Wednesday that the visitors played only six holes in the 50 mile-per-hour gales before retiring to the clubhouse.

The classic example of home advantage came at Royal Aberdeen in 2011. In cold, wet and windy weather that was severe even for the bleak northeastern corner of Scotland, an American team containing Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Harris English, Russell Henley, Patrick Rodgers and Peter Uihlein fell to a home squad featuring recent winner of the Korn Ferry Tour Championship, Tom Lewis, future Ryder Cupper Andy Sullivan and, as things have turned out, no one else really.

In other words, weather can count for a lot in “British” Walker Cups, a fact America’s captain, Nathaniel Crosby, a three-year veteran of the European Tour back in the 1980s, is well aware of. Based in Camberley just outside London during his brief Old World tenure, the 1981 U.S. Amateur champion admitted to being “never dry and never warm.”

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Which is not to say that Crosby, a member of the winning U.S Walker Cup side the last time the matches were held at Hoylake in 1983, is claiming to be some sort of expert when it comes handling the conditions, particularly on a links golf course.

“The only thing I can say is that it is better to be aggressive downwind and a little more conservative into the wind,” he said. “Other than that, I’m not licensed to give advice.”

Happily for Crosby, at least two of his 10-man squad seemed less than worried about the prospect of leaning into 40-mph gales while trying to manufacture shots half their usual height. Both have, as least to an extent, grown more comfortable with the conditions after rounds at nearby Wallasey and Royal Birkdale, as well as two days at Hoylake since their arrival in England last weekend.

“The wind here affects the ball a lot more than it does in the States, especially crosswinds,” said reigning U.S. Amateur champion Andy Ogletree, one of six Americans experiencing such conditions for the first time. “Our start lines are much more off-line than in the States, too. So you have to trust more. There are no tree lines either, just fairway and rough. There’s not a lot of stuff to aim at. You’ve got to be really specific with where you start the ball. And get it on the ground as soon as possible.”

One American who has seen this sort of thing before is Stewart Hagestad, the oldest member of the visiting team (28) and the lone holdover from the winning American side at Los Angeles Country Club in 2017.

“For me, this is not as much of an adjustment,” said Hagestad, who has qualified for the last three U.S. Opens. “By American standards, I hit it pretty low, so my ball isn’t affected as much. One of the things I feel is pretty useful is to try and have your shots around the greens be into the wind, just to manage those misses. I look on the whole thing as a fun challenge. So much of it is a mindset. You just have to go out there and enjoy it and have fun with it.”

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Yeah, yeah, yeah. Easier said than done. While he wasn’t saying as much out loud, it was clear that Crosby’s GB&I counterpart, Craig Watson, sees the possibility of strong breezes forecasted for the two days of competition as a big advantage for his inexperienced side. With an average age less than 22, none of the five Englishmen, two Scots and three Irishmen have played Walker Cup golf before. Their average place on the World Amateur Golf Ranking is also just 48.5 compared to the American’s 14.6. (Indeed, nine of the 10 golfers in the U.S. team are ranked inside the top 21 compared to just two on the GB&I team.

“I think we would prefer a wee bit of wind,” said the Scot, who beat future Masters champion Trevor Immelman to win the 1997 British Amateur. “It’s not as if the Americans won’t be able to handle the wind, but we are more used to playing links golf with wind. … But at the end of the day whoever played the best and makes the most putts will come out on top.”

Jan Kruger/R&A

GB&I Walker Cup captain Craig Watson (middle) chats with team members Tom Sloman (left) and Conor Gough during a practice round ahead of the 2019 Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool.

As ever, the other big topic in the lead-up to these long established matches—the first encounter took place in 1922—was the unfamiliar format that is foursomes. Again, on paper at least, any advantage would appear to belong to the GB&I side. Seldom played in the States, foursomes is common in every club throughout the British Isles.

“Two weeks ago in Pinehurst, we played foursomes almost exclusively in our practice-squad matches,” Crosby said. “And we played a lot of guys with different partners. You just have to go out there and adjust. I think we’re prepared. I think we’re organized. I think we’ve got the rich players playing with the right players. There is good chemistry and a lot of [good-natured] bickering, which makes it healthy. We’re optimistic about alternate-shot this time.”

Still, in three of the last four Walker Cups, GB&I has emerged from the two sessions of foursomes play (each of the two days contains four morning foursomes and eight afternoon singles) with an advantage.

“The foursomes are obviously very important because they set the tone,” said Watson, who revealed that all 10 of his team will play at least once on the opening day. “You want an early lead. I’ve got some decent foursomes pairings.”

Now all he needs is some “indecent” weather.


GREAT BRITAIN & IRELAND
Captain: Craig Watson

PLAYER, AGE, AMATEUR RANK
Alex Fitzpatrick, 20, 36
Conor Gough, 16, 3
Harry Hall, 21, 80
Thomas Plumb, 20, 157
Conor Purcell, 21, 25
Caolan Rafferty, 26, 37
Sandy Scott, 20, 42
Tom Sloman, 22, 39
James Sugrue, 22, 53
Euan Walker, 24, 13

USA
Captain: Nathaniel Crosby

PLAYER, AGE, AMATEUR RANK
John Augenstein, 21, 14
Akshay Bhatia, 17, 5
Steven Fisk, 22, 10
Stewart Hagestad, 28, 7
Cole Hammer, 19, 1
Andy Ogletree, 21, 41
John Pak, 20, 19
Isaiah Salinda, 22, 20
Alex Smalley, 22, 21
Brandon Wu, 22, 8


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