How Brown's men tamed a Tiger at wild Porthcawl

Tim Glover on the home side's Walker Cup win that stunned the golfing world
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The Independent Online
Clive Brown, only the fourth successful British captain in the 73-year history of the Walker Cup, did not think there was a particular watershed during the course of his side's epic victory at Royal Porthcawl. In fact, there were two and they both involved the American prodigy, Tiger Woods.

Before the match started Woods, upset stomach or not, had signalled his intent by getting an albatross two at the 17th which measures 511 yards. It prompted Downing Gray, the United States captain, to remark: "I have never seen anybody like it at the age of 19 and that includes Mr Nicklaus."

Woods arrived in Wales having successfully defended the US Amateur Championship, and you did not need a Barnum or a Bailey to promote the natural heavyweight contest in the singles: Woods versus Gordon Sherry, the Amateur champion from Kilmarnock. It never happened.

America struck the first blow on the opening morning when Gray sent out Woods and the immensely experienced John Harris to defeat Sherry and Stephen Gallacher, but thereafter the US failed to pick up the gauntlet. The strategy backfired badly. Brown had said all along that the 6ft 8in Sherry would be his pathfinder and in every match the Scotsman was sent out first.

On Saturday afternoon he beat Notah Begay and on Sunday afternoon he defeated Chris Riley. Where was Woods? At the bottom of the order instead of at the top. It was like putting Don Bradman in at No 11. Even so, on Saturday afternoon nobody, except perhaps Gary Wolstenholme, expected Wolstenholme to get a point off Woods.

It was an extraordinary result, not least because Wolstenholme is generally recognised as one of the shortest drivers in the game and Woods the longest. They were all square playing the 18th where Woods hit his approach shot out of bounds. Thus Wolstenholme struck a massive blow against the modern fashion which insists you have to smash the ball about 300 yards with a space-age club to get ahead in golf.

That result also indicated to Great Britain and Ireland that the US were vulnerable under pressure. Instead of the score being 6-6, Wolstenholme's point gave the home side a 7-5 lead after the first day and they still held a two-point lead going into the final singles, courtesy of another inspired performance in the foursomes from the Irish pair, Jody Fanagan and Padraig Harrington, and the English duo, David Howell and Mark Foster.

This made Gray's decision to play Harris at seven and Woods at eight even more inexplicable. Although both won, their contribution was irrelevant, for the match had already been lost. Woods declined an invitation to come into the press tent.

Brown's batting order, by contrast, worked like a dream with his top four - Sherry, Howell, Gallacher and Fanagan - all winning. Needing three and a half points out of eight to clinch victory, it was in the bag. Brown, while admitting that he was surprised to see Woods going out last, paid tribute to his "very great" team. "We holed the putts that mattered," Brown said. "It was down to confidence and the ability to take the pressure. That was the difference between the teams. The crowd was also instrumental in getting us into the right frame of mind. They were fantastic."

The fact that GB and Ireland, in the space of two years, had turned a 19-5 defeat in Minnesota into a 14-10 triumph in Wales was down to a sea change in terms of team selection and preparation. The match used to be played in May and the switch to September gave the selectors the benefit of choosing a team on current form over a full season. In addition GB and Ireland played the links of Royal Porthcawl 10 times before last week and also employed Bernard Gallacher, the Ryder Cup captain, as a consultant. The players were even given specialist advice on what to eat and drink. "Our whole approach changed," Brown said.

The appointment of Brown, a Welshman, as captain, was also a wise move. The norm is to go for a man who had played in the Walker Cup. The 43-year- old accountant from Gwynedd had not played in the match but he was an experienced Welsh international and a former captain of the GB and Ireland Youth team. His pedigree was further enhanced by the fact that his mother was vice-captain of the GB and Ireland Curtis Cup team that defeated the US in 1986 and his grandfather was chairman of the PGA when GB and Ireland (pre-Europe) won the Ryder Cup in 1957.

Brown developed an excellent team spirit but it remains to be seen how many of the 10 will be available when the match returns to America in two years time. When the question was asked, only the 35-year-old Wolstenholme put his hand up.

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