Senior's moment steadies British nerves to seal Walker Cup victory

 

Royal Aberdeen

Just when it seems things cannot get much healthier for Great Britain and Ireland in the professional game, so emerges a new crop promising their own rich future. The Walker Cup was regained here yesterday for the first time in eight years as the mighty American amateurs were toppled.

Just like Ryder Cups past, a United States team who were seemingly unbeatable on paper were conquered on grass. All credit to them, they made a brave fight of it in yesterday afternoon's singles, before which they appeared all but down and out. But the home guard held strong, eventually prevailing by 14-12.

"Well, that was an afternoon wasn't it?" said Nigel Edwards, the victorious and extremely relieved captain. "These are a bunch of special guys with a huge desire to win. The Americans are great players but I had a lot of faith in my guys."

The Welshman picked out Jack Senior's monstrous putt on the 18th as "the special moment". It was from off the green and earned him a half against Nathan Smith. By then, the scoreboard was highlighting a dramatic US fightback. GB&Ire had only needed three and a half points in the 10 singles, but this proved anything but a formality. Senior's grandstand moment granted them that bit of breathing room and it was little wonder Edwards ran over to give the Englishman a celebratory chest-bump.

There were a few others who deserved one of those, not least Paul Cutler, the 22-year-old from Royal Portstewart who won three and a half points out of four and would almost certainly have won all four if his anchor match with Patrick Cantlay had meant anything. He was four up with four to go, when Steven Brown holed the winning putt. Cutler's concession of the 18th as he rushed to join the party meant the extraordinary teenager Rhys Pugh was the only player who won every game they played.

"Wales has a special one in Rhys," said Edwards. Indeed, they do. This shy lad from Pontypridd is only 17 and what a prospect he is. He won all three of his matches, remaining impervious to the pressure all the way through. His 2&1 win over Kelly Kraft, the US Amateur champion, was one of the day's critical moments. "I couldn't have dreamed of better," he said as the cheers rang out all around him.

So Tom Lewis can end his amateur career as a winner, but his own personal tally was only one and half points out of four and the home crowd expected rather more from the 20-year-old who shot a 65 in the first round of the Open in July. Lewis's last match in the non-paid ranks finished with a 4&2 loss to Russell Henley.

Lewis will turn pro immediately, sign up with the IMG agency and make his pro debut at the Austrian Open next week. Eight of his team-mates here will be trying to earn their cards at Tour school. The pros should look out.

Their glory was essentially forged in the two morning foursomes sessions. They "won" these by the staggering scoreline of 61/2 – 11/2, with yesterday's 31/2 – 1/2 rout the vital session. The alternate shot format has traditionally been the undoing of the American Ryder Cup side and, considering the scoreline in the two singles sessions was 101/2 - 71/2 to the Starred and Striped, the curse has struck again.

But then, this was the first time in four Walker Cups they have tasted defeat and perhaps it was inevitable in the awful Scottish weather. This was the fourth time in the last five matches hosted by GB & Ire where the home nations' flags have flown proudest. To think, this match used to be known as the Walkover Cup. No longer. In the first 31 contests GB & Ire won but twice. From the last 12 matches the scoreline has been 6-6. Rather incredible, considering the respective sizes of the countries.

With the professionals monopolising the top of the rankings – the top three ranked players in the world hail from the United Kingdom – confidence is so high. Edwards tapped into this belief. "I told them they were great players as well as the Americans," he said. "I told them the match is not played on paper. They proved how good they are."

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