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Golf: Donald can be the driving force for Britain

PREVIOUS CAPTAINS of Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup teams have always talked up their side's chances, the problem was, in the past, no one believed them. Things are different this year. When the current captain, Peter McEvoy, says his team will win this year's match, which starts today at Nairn Golf Club, it is hard to argue with him.

Home successes in the Walker Cup can be counted on one hand. America holds a commanding 31-4 advantage, with one match tied of the 36 played since it started in 1922. It is for that reason the match has often been called the "Walkover Cup". Last time around the Americans cruised to an 18-6 victory at Quaker Ridge, New York, in 1997. That was not quite as bad as the 19-5 drubbing Britain and Ireland received in 1993 in Minnesota.

Sandwiched in between those two huge defeats was a famous victory at Royal Porthcawl when Britain and Ireland beat an American team that included Tiger Woods.This year's American team is strong, too, and includes Matt Kuchar and David Gossett, winners of the 1997 and 1999 US Amateur Championships respectively.

Yet McEvoy feels the side he has assembled this year is better than the team that won four years ago, but he is having difficulty making that point. "It's at times like this I get so irritated with previous captains because they have all said this is the best team we've ever had," said McEvoy. "Then when I say it, it just seems like I'm saying the same as everyone else. The truth is that it is one of the best I've come across."

McEvoy defends his statement by pointing to the fact that his side contains the four players - Luke Donald, Paddy Gribben, Lorne Kelly and Gary Wolstenholme - who won the Eisenhower Trophy, the World Amateur Team Championship, in Chile last year.

"We do have champions in our team, we do have a long run of success aside from the Walker Cup and even in the Walker Cup," he said. "If we win this one we've won three of the last six and that's salad days for the Walker Cup relative to the previous record."

McEvoy's team is good blend of youth and experience. Besides Wolstenholme, 39, the 1991 British Amateur champion playing in his third Walker Cup, the team also includes Graham Rankin, the 33-year-old who was a member of the winning 1995 team. Rounding off the side are Simon Dyson (22), David Patrick (24), Philip Rowe (20), Paul Casey (22), Kelly (25), Storm (21), and 30-year-old Gribben, a former professional.

Then there's Luke Donald, the 21-year-old who attends Northwestern University in Chicago. Donald is currently the No 1 amateur player in the United States, an accolade that normally belongs to a member of the American side. The tables might have finally turned.

WALKER CUP (Nairn) Today's matches (GB and Irl names first): Morning Foursomes: G Rankin and G Storm v H Haas and J Miller; P Casey and L Donald v J Byrd and S Scott; P Gribben and L Kelly v D Gosset and T Jackson; P Rowe and G Wolstenholme v M Kuchar and B Molder. Afternoon Singles: G Rankin v E Loar; L Donald v T McNight; G Storm v Hunter Haas; P Casey v S Scott; D Patrick v J Byrd; S Dyson v D Gossett; P Gribben v B Molder; L Kelly v T Jackson.