Golf: Rose blossoms in defeat

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The Independent Online
Encouraging news of a British and Irish persuasion from Quaker Ridge yesterday was limited to their dubious achievement of avoiding the ignominy of defeat before lunch. But only needing one point in the afternoon singles to win the Walker Cup for the 31st time in 36 matches, the Americans duly achieved their aim when John Harris beat Michael Brooks 6 and 5.

By winning six and halving one of the final eight singles, the home side completed an 18-6 victory, the second biggest winning margin after their 19-5 triumph in 1993. It was appropriate that Harris secured the winning point, just as he had done on his home course of Interlachen four years ago. The 45-year-old insurance executive extended his record in three Walker Cups to ten wins in eleven games and his singles performance is now the best ever in the 75 year history of the event.

Winning four holes in a row from the 10th gave him a record of six wins and no defeats, taking his past the legendary Bobby Jones, who had a five- nil singles record. Harris was one of three members of the American team who had lost to the Gordon Sherry-led Great Britain and Ireland team at Royal Porthcawl two years ago.

"Nobody has forgotten those closing ceremonies in 1995," Harris, known as the Reverend, said. "It was the most humbling experience I've ever had in sports. We just had to stand there and take it. The feeling lasted for two years. We came here with a mission and that's makes this one especially satisfying."

Although Steven Young beat Joel Kribel 2 and 1 and Craig Watson halved with Jason Gore, the American runaway continued with Jerry Courville, another member of the losing '95 team, beating Justin Rose 3 and 2. Rose fought back from being five down after seven holes and the performance of the 17-year-old from Hampshire, the youngest player ever in the event, was about the only saving grace of a miserable weekend for the visitors.

Rose, one of only three singles winners on Saturday, had earlier shared in his team's only foursome win, which had prolonged the agony into the afternoon. Another sweep of the morning foursomes, as on the first morning, would have seen the Americans, five points ahead overnight, regain the Walker Cup with a session to play. With the four home partnership all up in their matches, it looked a distinct possibility. But Rose and his English partner Gary Wolstenholme squared their match against Randy Leen and Chris Wollman four times before going on to claim a 2 and 1 victory.

A chip in from Rose at the ninth showed their fighting spirit and when the 36-year-old Wolstenholme holed a curling eight-footer at the 16th for a bogey, they went in front for the first time. Rose pushed his tee shot at the next into a bunker, but with his partner nevertheless finding the green, the youngster holed from 10 feet and celebrated by punching the air in Tiger Woods fashion. "Gary is a fantastic to play with and we have an unbeaten record," Rose said. "He does it every time. Whenever there is a crucial putt, it goes in."

Great Britain and Ireland had never suffered two whitewashes in foursomes in the same match. Under the current format, the earliest the match had been settled came 10 years ago at Sunningdale when the Americans had made sure of retaining the Cup before the final session.

The English pair apart, what has separated the teams is the staggering inability of the Britain and Ireland players to win holes in foursome play. In Saturday's four matches, the visiting partnerships won only nine holes between them. In both the top two games yesterday, the visitors won only one hole each. Richard Coughlan and David Park fought bravely, but for the second day running lost at the 18th.

Much of the time the Americans only needed to play par golf to stay in front, although not even Graham Rankin's brilliant tee shot at the short ninth, which spun over the edge of the cup, could ensure a win. The Americans holed from six feet for a half as Rankin and Barclay Howard went down 5 and 4 to Courville and Buddy Marucci.

For Howard, 44 with retirement from international competition imminent, it has been a miserable match. He lost three times and captain Clive Brown had already decided to rest the low amateur at the Open for yesterday's singles.