Underdog GB&I Walker Cup team have winning history at St. Andrews

Underdog GB&I Walker Cup team have winning history at St. Andrews
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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – There is no secret that despite their unfamiliarity with the Old Course, the Americans are the heavy favorites to lift the 49th Walker Cup trophy at St. Andrews.

The U.S. team boasts 8 of the top 10 amateurs in the world (could’ve been nine had Stanford’s Michael Thorbjornsen not pulled out with injury), and all but one player is ranked better than the top Great Britain and Ireland member, world No. 14 John Gough. The average World Amateur Golf Ranking of the U.S. is 8.2, compared to 88.6 for GB&I. No wonder betting sites around the country all tab the home side somewhere in the neighborhood of -250 underdogs.

But Walker Cups aren’t won on paper, and when it comes to experience around the Home of Golf, GB&I are the ones who own the winning history.

Let’s start with the captain, Scotland’s Stuart Wilson, who is leading the GB&I side for a second straight Cup, his previous team having suffered a narrow defeat at Seminole two years ago. Wilson, 46, was an accomplished amateur a couple decades ago, capturing low amateur honors at the 2004 Open Championship, which he qualified for via his triumph in the British Amateur at St. Andrews earlier that summer.

“Yeah, 20 years,” Wilson said. “Thanks for bringing that up. I needed reminding. Obviously, it was a special week as well. Right up there with what’s happening this week, and it was the 250th anniversary of the R&A as well, so there was a lot of activity around that week just like there’s a lot of activity around this week with it being the 100 years since the first playing at St Andrews. … The guys are maybe playing off slightly different tees and hitting into slightly different places than I used to do, but I’d like to think that we can still draw on those positive experiences and the knowledge of getting around the Old Course and put it into good practice this week.”

Wilson defeated Lee Corfield, 4 and 3, in the final, though his most memorable match that week came in the quarterfinals, where he beat Francesco Molinari, 3 and 1.

“Francesco was probably the top European player at the time,” Wilson recalled, “and we’d had a few matches in the past and been on a few teams together, so we knew each other well. It was a nice match to get through, and probably, yeah, the kind of performance that was required at the time to make the semifinal and the final possible.”

Alex Maguire, the 22-year-old Walker Cup debutant from Ireland, also has posed with some serious hardware at the Old Course, having captured the St. Andrew Links Trophy earlier this summer. Though Maguire didn’t just win, he won convincingly, shooting 66-66-64 in three rounds on the Old Course to win by five shots, a resounding victory that likely secured his place on this GB&I team before he even reached the quarters of this year’s British Am or qualified for The Open at Royal Liverpool.

“Winning here was probably the best weekend of my life,” Maguire said. “Again, that photo down on Swilcan Bridge a few months ago was a photo that will never be beaten, but I think regardless if I won or not, coming back to St Andrews, like Calum said, is so special. You take for granted as players getting to play the Links Trophy, you take for granted how cool it is here and how like people all over the world want to come here and play a round of golf, and we’re able to do it for free this week and represent our home country.”

Should GB&I pull off the massive upset, though, it’s likely Maguire will have to rethink his personal ranking of golf achievements.

But just how can that massive upset happen?

“I think the person or team who holes the most putts is going to win,” Maguire said. “I think our games are definitely good enough to compete with the Americans. It will all come down to the greens here. Stuart put a text in there last week saying, Practice putting, because it’s the one thing it’ll come down to. You’d be surprised how similar our games will be to the Americans’, I think.

“We’re not intimidated by the rankings. Obviously, they’re great players, and they’re high up in the world rankings for a reason, but at the end of the day, it’ll come down to who can hole the most 10-footers and who can hole the most 5-footers. That’s pretty much all it’s going to come down to.”

Maguire and Wilson would know. Underdogs or not this week, GB&I has at least one advantage, and that’s local knowledge.

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