By Richard Williamson
WALKER Cup captain Craig Watson admits that the final selection for the 10-man team to face the Americans at Royal Liverpool in September is going to be a tough one.
After running the rule over a pared-down 16-strong training squad that took the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the Open Championship links at Hoylake, Watson, himself a former Walker Cup player in 1997, said he felt for the six players destined to miss out.
With Amateur Champion James Sugrue from Ireland the only player guaranteed a place, there is still all to play for.
“Last time round the 10 who played more or less picked themselves from the world rankings,” explained Watson, “but there is very little to choose between all 16. The selectors have got some very difficult decisions and there will be some very disappointed players. The days when amateurs worked Monday to Friday and then played at weekends have gone, and a lot of these boys will be full-time golfers as it is difficult to hold down a job while trying to reach the standard required to do well these days.”
The 47th Walker Cup will pit the best male amateur golfers from America against a team representing Great Britain and Ireland.
The hosts will be out to regain the trophy after surrendering it back to the Americans in Los Angeles two years ago, having wrested it back themselves at Royal Lytham two years prior to that.
Watson is canny enough not to be drawn into making wild predictions, but believes a combination of the testing Hoylake course, home support and the quality of his players means the travelling team are in for a battle.
“I will be telling the team to enjoy the experience, to not let the occasion get to them and then if we play to our potential we are more than capable of getting the result we want, but we shall have to wait and see,” was the Scotsman’s diplomatic answer.
“Hopefully the spectators will get to see a great match, played by some very talented golfers with the chance to get up close to the action. Watching from the sides is great, but being able to stand behind these players on the fairways and watch how they shape their shots is a great way to appreciate the standard of golf on show.”
Hoylake is a course with its own quirks and foibles, and Watson hopes that it will provide the right environment for his own players to prosper … but a bit of wind would not go amiss.
“Golf is a global sport these days and players are more than capable of playing on different courses, but our players will have had more opportunity to play on this kind of course and in the British weather. I hope it stays fine for the spectators, but a dry wind wouldn’t be a bad thing!
“The Americans obviously have a much bigger pool of players to pick from, their college set up helps produce good golfers and it is no surprise to see their Walker Cup players who turn professional then making an immediate impact in the professional ranks when our players take a wee while longer.
“The Los Angeles course was quite open, but here the rough is very penal. The Americans tend to be long off the tee, but that is not always necessary round Hoylake and sometimes the further you go the more trouble you can be in.
“The Walker Cup is the pinnacle of amateur golf and hopefully the boys will go out and embrace the experience.”