The beauty of golf was on exhibit Sunday during the 43rd Walker Cup this weekend.
The biennial event pitted the best amateurs from the United States against their equals in Great Britain and Ireland. Some might say that throughout the years it really has not been equal as the Yankees owned a 34-7-1 record heading into this year’s matches at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland.
And this year, at least on paper, was expected to be more of the same American domination. Of the United States’ 10-man squad, six are among the top 10 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, including the top four.
The GB&I team had only one advantage, a so-called home soil advantage where it had won four of the last five Walker Cups.
Well, guess what? GB&I showed it was every bit the Americans’ equal with a convincing 14-12 victory.
“Our preparation and the desire to be successful,” said Nigel Edwards, GB&I’s captain. “I told them they were very special people and they deserve to be here. And all they have to do is go out and perform and look after their ball because it’s not played on paper.”
Maybe if this were a stroke-play tournament, the Americans would have taken control of the leaderboard. After all, former University of Georgia teammates Harris English and Russell Henley had won Nationwide Tour events this season, and No. 1-ranked Patrick Cantlay held his own in the PGA Tour events he received sponsor exemptions into.
But it was not. This was match play, a format in which the GB&I thrives, especially in foursomes, otherwise known as alternate shot. Of the eight foursome matches over two days, GB&I won six and halved a seventh.
“I don’t think at any point we were underdogs,” said GB&I member Michael Stewart. “It didn’t really make a difference to us. Didn’t really pay much attention to what was written, and Nigel just let us go about our own business. We just focused on us and at the end of the week it paid off.”
Even if the Europeans had been underdogs, match play is the equalizer. Each hole stands as its own match, nothing is carried over like a skins game. Each hole is like a boxing match, each shot setting up the next in hopes of delivering the knockout punch.
Only one of the 26 matches went fewer than 15 holes, and 17 went to at least to the 17th hole — further stressing the back-and-forth tenor of the weekend.
In fading daylight on Sunday, Great Britain and Ireland proved it was the better squad — even if it wasn’t on paper.
Stuart Hall is editor of the Golf Press Association.