Walker Cup: Preview and team guide to 47th renewal at Royal Liverpool

The victorious USA side from 2017
The victorious USA side from 2017

James Hibbitt previews the 47th Walker Cup, which takes place at Royal Liverpool Golf Club this weekend.

  • When: Saturday September 7 & Sunday September 8
  • Where: Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, Merseyside
  • Latest odds: USA 8/11, GB&I 11/8, draw 14/1

Overview

Leading amateurs from Great Britain and Ireland and the USA will again go head-to-head at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in the 47th edition of the Walker Cup.

Royal Liverpool itself has a long and distinguished history of golfing firsts. It played host to the inaugural men’s amateur championship in 1885, which became The Amateur Championship, and staged the first transatlantic match between GB&I and the USA in 1921 – the event which would become the Walker Cup a year later.

The amateur sibling of the Ryder Cup was named after George Herbert Walker, former president of the United States Golf Association. Walker is the grandfather and namesake of George H. W. Bush and the great grandfather of George W. Bush – the 41st and 43rd presidents of the United States of America.

The event itself is played across two days and will see four foursome (alternate shot) matches in the morning followed by a series of singles matches in the afternoon - eight on day one and 10 on day two.

With a total of 26 points available, a team must secure 13.5 to win the match outright. The team in possession of the Walker Cup can retain it with 13 points - and that's the USA on this occasion. They arrive in England as defending champions following a dominant performance in 2017 where they beat GB&I 19-7 at Los Angeles Country Club in California.

After a landslide victory for the USA two years ago, it's important to acknowledge that there has historically been a significant advantage to the home team. The last time the Walker Cup was won by a visiting side was in 2007, when under a slightly shorter system the USA took down their opponents 12.5-11.5 in a closely-fought contest at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland.

That USA team would prove to be exceptionally strong - it included subsequent PGA Tour winners Chris Kirk, Billy Horschel, Webb Simpson, Kyle Stanley, Rickie Fowler and a world number one in Dustin Johnson. It takes a side of real talent to win the Walker Cup away from home.

The teams

Great Britain and Ireland

Captain Craig Watson was the 1997 Amateur Champion having beaten South Africa’s Trevor Immelman in the final, a player who went on to enjoy top-level success at the Masters.

Walker was a very well respected Scottish international in the 1990s and went on to become national captain. He was set to be Walker Cup captain in 2017 but was forced to withdraw. Two years later, he'll lead a talented side at Hoylake.

Alex Fitzpatrick (20 years old) - Hallamshire Golf Club – WAGR 41

Alex may be the younger brother of Matt Fitzpatrick – a five-time European tour winner – but he has a serious game in his own right.

In his freshman year at Wake Forest University, Fitzpatrick had 12 consecutive rounds of par or better - one shy of a school record. He’s also the 2017 Yorkshire Amateur Champion, where a course record 10-under par 62 secured a resounding 13-shot victory at Cleveland Golf Club.

The Sheffield born superstar in the making and Serena Williams of the family, Fitzpatrick junior has a handicap of +4.4. It’s almost certainly a matter of time before we see him strolling the fairways week in, week out with his older brother.

Conor Gough (17) – Stoke Park – WAGR 2

Gouch is the youngest participant in this year’s Walker Cup and fresh from victory at the English Amateur Championship, where a 3&2 result against Northamptonshire's Callum Farr added the McGregor Trophy to the British Boys’ title he won earlier in the year.

He was present in the field at the US Amateur at Pinehurst, however rounds of 79 & 69 meant he did not progress to the match play phase.

Participation in this year’s leading events has been hampered by his GCSE's, but now they are done he’ll be firmly focused on competing in his favoured format in the Walker Cup.

Gough will turn 17 just two days before the start of the event, making him the second youngest participant in its history – Oliver Fisher was aged just 16 years and 11 months when he featured in Chicago in 2005.

Harry Hall (21) - West Cornwall Golf Club – WAGR 76

At 21, the two-time 2018 collegiate winner and 2019 Brabazon Trophy runner-up brings a wealth of experience to the team having been a key component to England’s success in the European Amateur Championship.

Thomas Plumb (20) – Yeovil Golf Club – WAGR 138

Having won two of the most prestigious titles in the South West of England region, Plumb is well known on the amateur circuit.

The +5 handicapper put together two rounds of 66 in the South West Counties Amateur Championship, at Parkstone Golf Club, for a victorious 12-under-par total.

He also lifted the West of England Open Amateur Championship following an emphatic 11&10 victory in the 36-hole final, as well as demonstrating his skills overseas having finished third in the South American Amateur in Chile and claimed the title in the Sanlam Cape Province Open in South Africa.

Conor Purcell (21) - Portmarnock Golf Club – WAGR 16

A former child tennis prodigy and son of a former head professional at Portmarnock Golf Club in Ireland, Purcell has shown himself to be a gifted young sportsman.

He was the first Irishman to win the Australian Amateur Championship and also finished runner-up in the 2019 Irish Amateur Open.

Caolan Rafferty (26) - Dundalk Golf Club – WAGR 23

Another of Ireland's finest amateurs, Rafferty is fresh from victory in the West of Ireland Amateur Open, where rounds of 71, 66, 67 and 72 gave the level-headed Dundalk native a comfortable four-shot victory.

That triumph provided a degree of redemption following the loss of a five-shot lead in the final round of the R&A Scholars Tournament at St Andrews just days prior.

Sandy Scott (20) - Nairn Golf Club – WAGR 51

The Highlander burst on the scene in 2015 with three domestic victories in 40 days – the Stephen Gallagher Foundation, East of Scotland Open and the Scottish Boys Open Stroke Play.

More recently, the 20-year old, who has just finished his penultimate year at Texas Tech University, broke through on the US collegiate circuit with victory at the El Macero Classic in Texas. Rounds of 75, 66 and 72 secured a one-shot victory over Colombian, Ivan Camilo Ramirez.

Tom Sloman (22) - Taunton & Pickeridge Golf Club – WAGR 35

The +4.7 handicapper reached the last-16 in the 2019 Australian Amateur and was runner up in last year’s Welsh Men’s Open. He was also a member of the successful Home Internationals team and picked up individual honours - previous winners include Sergio Garcia and Rory Mcilroy.

Sloman narrowly missed out on a spot at The Open after finishing a shot shy of a play-off in Final Qualifying at Hollinwell, demonstrating the quality which earned him a place on this team.

James Sugrue (22) – Mallow Golf Club – WAGR 62

The 22-year-old County Cork native burst out of the gates at the Amateur Championship at Portmarnock; finding himself 5up after the opening 9.

Scotland’s Euan Walker fought back bravely and tied the match after hole 33 of the 36 hole final. The fairy tale comeback was not to be as Sugrue would win the final two holes and triumph 2up.

That victory earned the Irishman a spot in the field at Portrush where, at 6.35am, he joined honorary starter Darren Clarke on the first tee before eventually missing the cut on the number.

Euan Walker (24) – Kilmarnock Golf Club – WAGR 14

Walker was runner-up to Sugrue in the Amateur Championship but 2019 has still been a success for the Scotsman.

The +4.7 handicapper was victorious at the African Amateur Championship, held at Leopard Creek Country Club in South Africa, where he shot 11-under to win by three.

He further underlined his consistency with six top-10 finishes in his next 10 starts, not including his T7 at the Open Final Qualifying where falling just three shots short of a place in the field for the Open.

Reserves

Ben Schmidt (16) – Rotherham Golf Club - WAGR 8

Perhaps the most surprising omission from the team, Schmidt became the fourth golfer to win the Brabazon Trophy and Carris Trophy in the same season, joining elite company alongside Sandy Lyle and Peter Baker.

It has been a breakthrough year for the 16-year-old and he's unfortunate not to be named as part of the side, with age perhaps going against him.

Ben Jones (20) – Northamptonshire County Golf Club – WAGR 39

Although without a victory, Jones has put together a solid 2019 season with top-five finishes in the European Amateur Championship, Amateur Championship, International de France and NSW Amateur.


United States

Captain Nathaniel Crosby is the son of legendary 'White Christmas' singer, Bing Crosby, as well as being a very accomplished golfer.

Having won the event at the age of 19 in 1981, Crosby is in fact the third youngest winner of the US Amateur Championship, earning a place in the following year's US Open where he made the cut - the only major weekend he played, with a short-lived major career having followed.

Crosby was also a key member of the winning 1982 Eisenhower Trophy and 1983 Walker Cup teams and knows exactly what this is all about.

John Augenstein (21) – Kentucky – WAGR 38

As winner of the 2018 Amateur Players Championship, Augenstein earned an exemption into the 2019 RBC Heritage on the PGA Tour, where respectable rounds of 73 and 73 left the American outside of the cut line.

He enters the Walker Cup in fine form having made it to the 36-hole final in the US Amateur at Pinehurst, where he gave up a four-hole lead and lost to Andy Ogletree at the 35th hole.

Akshay Bhatia (17) – Wake Forest, North Carolina – WAGR 5

The left handed 17-year-old phenom becomes the first junior to represent the US in the last three Walker Cups.

Bhatia has 11 top amateur titles to his name, including the 2019 Jones Cup and 2019 World Junior Championship hosted by Dustin Johnson.

Bhatia won two silver medals in the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics - the boys' individual and mixed team with Lucy Li. He was also a key component in the victorious 2017 Junior Presents Cup and 2018 Junior Ryder Cup teams.

On a sponsorship exemption, he made his PGA Tour debut at the 2019 Valspar Championship but was unable to make the cut. He was, however, successful in making the cut on the Web.com Tour where he finished T42 in the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Championship.

Keen fans of the amateur circuit and social media will be familiar with the power that Bhatia has to offer, thanks largely to the Instagram videos from famed coach George Gankas.

Stewart Hagestad (28) Newport Beach, California – WAGR 7

Hagestad is the only player in the field who featured in the 2017 Walker Cup.

He was the winner of the 2016 US Mid-Amateur at Stonewall Links which earned the American a spot in the 2017 Masters. He would go on to become the first US Mid-Amateur Champion to make the cut, ultimately finishing in a tie for 36th.

He also competed in the 2017 US Open at Erin Hills, the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills and again in the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach, missing the cut on all three occasions but amassing a wealth of experience which makes his name stand out here.

At the age of 28, Hagestad has no intentions of turning professional so could well be a feature in the Walker Cup for many years to come.

Cole Hammer (19) – Houston, Texas – WAGR 1

The American won the stroke play section of the 2018 US Amateur at Pebble Beach and followed that with four wins to get into the semi-finals, where he lost 3&2 to eventual winner Viktor Hovland.

The 2018 Western Amateur champion added the 2019 NCAA Austin Regional Championship to an already impressive resume, securing his place at number one in the world amateur rankings.

Hammer has added 10 pounds in the past year and a half since working with Jordan Spieth’s strength coach, Troy Van Biezen. Expect to see some long balls from the potential star of the show.

Isaiah Salinda (22) – San Francisco, California – WAGR 20

Winner of the 2019 NCAA Stanford Regional where rounds of 66, 67 and 67 secured a three-shot victory over fellow American, Cameron Sisk, Salinda also won the 2018 Pacific Coast Amateur Championship where PGA Tour winner Colin Morikawa was part of the field.

Alex Smalley (22) – Wake Forest, North Carolina – WAGR 18

Earlier this summer, Smalley pulled off the rare feat of winning his second straight Sunnehanna Amateur. Smalley, a Duke University graduate, earned both All-East Region and All-Atlantic Coast Conference recognition for the third straight year.

Smalley holds Duke career records for rounds in the 60s (37), rounds of par or better (90), top-five finishes (18), top-10 finishes (25) and top-20 finishes (32). He has every intention of turning professional after the Walker Cup so will be looking to close the curtain on his amateur career in style.

Brandon Wu (22) – Scarsdale, New York – WAGR 11

Following rounds of 65 and 72, Wu won the stroke play phase of the 2019 US Amateur Championship, only to crash out in the round of 64 following defeat to fellow American, Austin Squires.

He was victorious earlier in the year following a playoff with David Synder in the Goodwin. As with Salinda, the field also included Morikawa.

Wu also made headlines in the UK with an outstanding display to qualify for the Open, where he missed the cut.

Steven Fisk (22) – Stockbridge, Georgia – WAGR 12

With two wins (Sun Belt Conference & Schenkel Invitational) and four top-10 finishes in 2019, Fisk enters the Walker Cup in impressively consistent form.

The Georgia Southern alumni was present in the US Amateur field but lost to Australia’s Karl Vilips 3&1 in the round of 32.

Andy Ogletree (21) – Little Rock, Mississippi – WAGR 120

Ogletree enters the field fresh from a shock victory in the US Amateur Championship where he overcame a four-hole deficit to win 2&1 in the 36-hole final.

In the process, he joined the elite company of Bobby Jones and Matt Kuchar in being only the third Georgia Tech player to lift the Havemeyer Trophy, while also securing a spot in the 2020 Open Championship and Masters Tournament – where he’ll tee up with defending champion Tiger Woods.

Prior to securing his spot by virtue of the US Amateur victory, Ogletree did not expect to be selected and revealed he did not even own a passport.

John Pak (20) – Scotch Plains, New Jersey – WAGR 25

With three titles under his belt - the ACC Championship, Sea Best Invitational and Mobile Sports Authority Intercollegiate - on top of three runner-up finishes in the Porter Cup, Irish Creek Intercollegiate and Valspar Collegiate, you’ll have to look far and wide to find a season more consistent than John Pak’s 2019.

He has only finished outside of the top 15 once in 14 starts in the calendar year and should make a reliable partner for any member of the USA team.

Reserves

Ricky Castillo (19) – WAGR 9

Following two victories in 2018, Castillo further underlined his class with five top-five finishes in six starts in 2019 and jumped to a career high ninth in the WAGR.

With rounds of 72 and 66 in the stroke play phase of the US Amateur Championship, Castillo breezed into the match play. After a closely fought match that went the distance, he lost to eventual finalist Augenstein in the last-16.

It would seem Captain Crosby has opted for more experience in his first team selection and, like Schmidt for team GBI, it’s inevitable we’ll see Castillo tee it up in the Walker Cup in future.

Chandler Phillips (19) – WAGR 13

Phillips put together an impressive 2018 season with three victories and four top-10 finishes.

By his own high standards, 2019 hasn’t been quite as successful. His only win came in emphatic fashion where rounds of 67, 63 and 64 earned an eight-shot victory in the Arizona Intercollegiate.

It would seem he didn’t quite agree with Captain Crosby’s selection. Immediately after the team was announced, Phillips took to Twitter to complain that "Every 2 years someone gets boned and I just got the call letting me know I have been [chosen] for this award. Lol. Thanks".

And finally...

The USA team has an average WAGR of 26 against GB&I’s 46 – could we see the first USA victory in Great Britain since 2007?

As Bernard Darwin wrote: "Hoylake. Blown by mighty winds. Breeder of mighty champions."

Somewhere among the line-ups above there surely is another. Perhaps we'll see a glimpse of the future in a fascinating renewal of the Walker Cup.

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