Golf: Walker Cup hopefuls race for their places

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The Independent Online
When the amateur golfers of Great Britain & Ireland last travelled to a Walker Cup match on American soil four years ago, they did not return with one of this country's more glorious sporting stories. Tucked away under the heading "Massacre in Minnesota", the history books record a 19-5 victory for the Americans.

The haunted look on the captain George MacGregor's face remains vivid, but the cries of "something must be done" were swiftly answered. MacGregor, taking on the David Graveney role, became chairman of selectors and revamped the system, while the Welshman Clive Brown was installed as captain.

Brown led his side to a famous 14-10 win on home soil at Royal Porthcawl two years later. The defining moment came when a certain Tiger Woods lost to Gary Wolstenholme, a man who needed to turn on the ignition and engage first gear to drive as far as his opponent that day.

This year's match takes place at Quaker Ridge, near New York, in August and this week's Amateur Championship at Royal St George's, which starts its matchplay phase today after two days of strokeplay qualifying, will be a prime pointer for the new team. Nothing illustrates the turnover of players in the amateur game, and so the problems for the selectors, more than the fact that Wolstenholme was the only former champion to set off in the initial field of 288 from 21 countries.

He is also one of only four players from the 10-strong 1995 team to have remained playing for the love of the game. Of those who turned professional, Ireland's Padraig Harrington has been a conspicuous success, while the 1995 Amateur champion, Gordon Sherry, has yet to see his career take flight.

Despite failing to qualify after a first round 87 at Royal Cinque Ports, Wolstenholme along with Graham Ranking, the winner of the Lytham Trophy this season, Jody Fanagan and Barclay Howard are likely to form the nucleus of the team. They are all in the preliminary squad of 20, although Justin Rose, 16, is not. Already an England international, the precocious Rose should force his way into the team, however, with a successful follow- up to winning the St Andrews Trophy two weeks ago.