Wolstenholme stakes claim

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The Independent Online

reports from Sunningdale

Gary Wolstenholme will today be named in the GB and Ireland Walker Cup side to play the United States at Royal Porthcawl next month. If he is not there is something rotten in the state of St Andrews. Wolstenholme, who will be 35 today, won the inaugural British Mid Amateur Championship over Sunningdale's new course yesterday, defeating Simon Vale 2 and 1 in a final of some quality.

The British Mid Amateur was introduced by the Royal and Ancient this season for veterans above the age of 25 as an incentive to stem the flood of amateurs turning professional as soon as they are old enough to open a bank account.

The difference between the Walker Cup and the Ryder Cup - some might think that one is played by a bunch of Corinthians, the other by a bunch of over-paid amateurs - is that the former has a team of 10 instead of 12. The R&A named eight players last month, keeping two places open. If Wolstenholme gets one, Graham Houston, the Welsh amateur champion, is likely to get the other.

Wolstenholme, despite winning 68 caps for England, has never played in the Walker Cup. "It's unfortunate," he said, "that the team wasn't chosen en bloc. They shouldn't let anybody feel that they're an afterthought. If winning the Mid Amateur means selection to the Walker Cup it could give the tournament extra status. If not it doesn't mean a thing. I wanted to make it as hard as possible for the selectors not to pick me. I was under a lot of pressure all week."

If Wolstenholme has a weakness it is that, by modern standards, he is not a long hitter, i.e. he does not blast it 300 yards off the tee. On the other hand he is straight and he finally got the better of Vale, a 25-year-old from a club near Lichfield, at the 17th after going three up with a hole-in-one at the 14th, a three-iron from 194 yards. The ace did not win him a Volvo or a trip for two to Bermuda - in fact he did not have enough money on him to honour the tradition of buying everybody a drink in the clubhouse - but it did help him win a gold medal and to become the first custodian of the trophy.

The original field of 144 players was reduced to 64 after two rounds of stroke play. Wolstenholme led the qualifying with 71 and 67 and then came through six rounds of matchplay. Today he will finally receive confirmation that he has emulated his late father, Guy, who played in the Walker Cup in the 1950s. However, Guy, who died of cancer at the age of 53, never won the Amateur Championship, something which Gary achieved in 1991, a week after the Walker Cup team of that year was announced.