Skipper acknowledges the scale of the challenge facing his Great Britain & Ireland side in Los Angeles this September
By Martin Inglis
Walker Cup captain Craig Watson has acknowledged the tough task that will await his team when they travel to the USA to defend their title in September.
Great Britain & Ireland have won just twice in the USA in the biennial event’s history - 1989 and 2001 - and suffered a 17-9 thumping back in 2013 before redemption in a 16.5-9.5 win at Royal Lytham& St Annes two years ago.
However, with Americans making up 15 of the top 20 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings at the time of writing, and just Scott Gregory (No.5), Robert MacIntyre (No.8) and Connor Syme (No.9) in there for GB&I, it represents an ominous challenge for Watson and whichever players form his team.
“It’s going to be tough and we’re under no illusions about that,” said Watson, who takes over the reins from Nigel Edwards after his three Walker Cups at the helm yielded two home victories. “We won it last time at Lytham but that has no bearing as it’s in the US and both squads will be totally different. The Americans also put on a terrific performance at the Arnold Palmer Cup.”
The Arnold Palmer Cup, the annual team competition between American college golfers and European college/university golfers, resulted in a resounding 19.5-10.5 success for the USA - the second greatest winning margin in the past ten years of the event.
Rather than be intimidated by the opposition though, Watson doesn’t want to burden his eventual team with any pressure when they fly out to Los Angeles Country Club. He will urge them to, above all, enjoy the experience, and believes that mindset will lead to a stronger showing as it did with him in his Walker Cup appearance on US soil in 1997.
“I would like to think we can put in a good performance,” added Watson. “But ultimately, you want them to enjoy it and, if they’re enjoying it, the team has a much better chance of performing well as opposed to if they’re putting too much pressure on themselves.
“A lot of them will have aspirations, and some will go onto become European Tour winners and Ryder Cup players, but for those that don’t, the Walker Cup could be one of the highlights of their career.
“It was certainly the highlight of mine. When I played, I was pretty sure a few guys didn’t enjoy the week and the result showed that. Whereas with me, I was never going to turn pro so I was out there to enjoy everything about it and personally I played well, even though the team lost.”
Although Watson has taken over from Edwards, the latter remains an integral part of the Walker Cup as a selector and Watson has said he will lean on the Englishman as much as possible in the build-up to the event.
“So far he’s been great to bounce ideas off,” he said. “He’s probably spent more time involved in the Walker Cup than some of the players have been alive with his experience of winning the event as a player and captain, so having him in the background is certainly a big help to me.”
The 2017 Walker Cup takes place from September 9-10 at Los Angeles Country Club.