Donald on home ground

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The Independent Online

While Ryder Cup matches of the last two decades have become so close a single shot or putt can be pivotal, contests for their amateur equivalent, the Walker Cup, have become decidedly one-sided. This is actually a vast improvement since for most of its history the event could be described as the Walk-over Cup. Everyone had a jolly time and America won.

The last six matches, however, have been shared three apiece and Peter McEvoy's Great Britain and Ireland team arrive at Sea Island, Georgia, for next weekend's staging of the event with real optimism that they can become the first from these shores to retain the Cup.

The main reason this has not been possible before is that GB and I have only won five of the 37 matches and only once in the States. That was at Peachtree in Atlanta in 1989 and was the only previous occasion the match has ventured to Georgia.

McEvoy, the former Amateur champion, played on that occasion but proved an inspirational captain at Nairn two years ago. His words helped the home side turn a first-day deficit into their biggest ever victory, 15-9.

The last two visits to the States, however, proved calamitous defeats, with America winning by a record 14 points, 19-5, at Interlachen in 1993, and by 12 at Quaker Ridge four years ago. The Americans also seem to come up with a solid combination of veterans who never bothered to turn professional and youngsters destined for glory. The latter category this time includes Bryce Molder, Jeff Quinney and James Driscoll.

But for the first time, some of the visitors will not find the terrain quite so foreign. Luke Donald has been playing the Americans at their own game on the US college circuit, twice being voted the player of the year. The 23-year-old from Beaconsfield has just graduated after four years at Northwestern University in Chicago, where he won a string of tournaments. Jamie Elson, a 20-year-old from Kenilworth, is at Augusta State and finished as runner-up in the individual standings at the NCAA Championship.

"We have no need to feel intimidated going over there any more," said McEvoy. "There is no reason to think you're not going to perform the same wherever you are. I am convinced we can win again."

Donald, who won all four of his matches at Nairn in 1999, will be making his professional debut at the Scottish PGA at the end of the month. With the likes of Paul Casey having gone pro already, only Donald and the perennial Gary Wolstenholme, the man who beat Tiger Woods at Royal Porthcawl in 1995, remain from two years ago.

One of the most exciting newcomers will be Nick Dougherty. The 19-year-old Lancastrian won the Lake McQuarrie tournament in Australia at the start of the year and has impressed in a number of European Tour events this season. Dougherty, whose mentor is none other than Nick Faldo, finished 12th at the B & H International and may also be leaving the amateur game shortly.

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