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The Loop

Which role is best at Walker Cup?

September 08, 2011

__ABERDEEN, Scotland--__Do you what to enter the Walker Cup as the favorite or the underdog? The answer would seem obvious--who wouldn't want to be considered the "better" team?--but the pressure and motivation with each label make the question harder to answer than you might think.

Great Britain & Ireland had no problem using the "woe-is-us" role to its advantage when it claimed victory at the 1999, 2001 and 2003 matches, each of those squads inspired by the us-against-the-world theme.

With 2011 GB&I captain Nigel Edwards having been a player on two of those three teams, claiming the decisive point at Ganton GC in 2003, the 43-year-old Welshman knows how this can work to a side's advantage.

Of course, he'll have to play his hand this way as the 43rd edition of the biennial competition begins in earnest Saturday at Royal Aberdeen GC. On paper, it appears the United States team, led by captain Jim Holtgrieve, has the more dynamic squad. Eight of the 10 Americans are ranked in the top 20 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking as the U.S. tries to win for the fourth straight time since 2005 and improve on its 34-7-1 overall record in the matches. (Only three GB&I players--Tom Lewis,Michael Stewart and Steven Brown--are in the top 20.)

Two of the Americans--Russell Henley and Harris English--have won Nationwide Tour events, while__Patrick Cantlay__ and Peter Uihlein have made the cut in PGA Tour events and in major championships this year.

"I think they have to be the favorites, given their achievements that they've had and the World Ranking," said GB&I's Jack Senior, who got a up-close glimpse of several of his opponents when he played in the U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills GC two weeks ago, reaching the semifinals before falling to eventual champion__Kelly Kraft__.

While the U.S. side would seem to have a deeper squad, the intangibles that might be needed to succeed this week along the Scottish coast seem to lean in the GB&I's favor. First there's the course, a links layout that provides the hosts with a natural home-course advantage.

Secondly, should the nasty weather that is in the forecast for the weekend be correct—rain and winds looking to play through—again the GB&I's experience in these conditions could prove a great equalizer.

"Obviously, until getting to Scotland, there was no preparation [for these particular conditions]," Holtgrieve said. "I'm glad that we got here Sunday night and spent Monday and Tuesday [on the course]. These gentlemen spent a lot of time looking at various hole locations, hitting a lot of different shots around the greens, putting and so forth. So I think we're just very well prepared right now. I feel very, very good about the way my team has assessed the situations and the weather conditions."

Lastly, there's the crowds. The pro-GB&I galleries could help lift spirits and inspire Edwards' gaggle, becoming a variable that could make a difference if the matches are close. Just ask Edwards what they meant for him in 2003 when he made a 60-foot birdie on the 17th at Ganton, the only birdie on that hole the entire weekend, to cap off a 2-0-2 performance.

"Obviously [the U.S.] isvery strong. You know there's no doubt about that," Edwards said. "Thankfully the match isn't played on paper, and our boys are used to playing match play, are good match-play players, and are relishing the prospect of the Walker Cup matches."

The weather forecast this weekend calls for rain and wind, but don't expect any wardrobe malfunctions at Royal Aberdeen. Or at least none along the lines of what happened with the Americans rainwear during last year's Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.

U.S. captain Jim Holtgrieve personally tested the outfits his team will be wearing earlier this year, even wearing his suit in the shower to see how it would hold up.

"Corey Paving is a very good friend of mine, so I was going to make sure that that was not going to happen," Holtgrieve said. "So when I got the suit from Polo, I did stand in the shower, and it does work perfectly."

Holtgrieve's players have all tested their attire as well as they've been greeted by wet weather earlier in the week. Each player was asked specifically if they had stayed dry, all giving their gear a thumbs up.