Advantage GB&I on Day 1 of the Walker Cup at the Old Course

The Walker Cup tends to be held up as the epitome of the amateur ideal. It was certainly ideal Saturday as Great Britain & Ireland made hay in the St Andrews sun and moved into a 7 ½-4 ½ lead after the opening session of foursomes and singles on the Old Course. It turned out to be their biggest first-day advantage in the transatlantic tussle since 1989.

The overall scoreline, of course, can be deceptive in this skirmish of fine margins. Some of the ties were tighter than a Hollywood facelift and, with 14 points up for grabs on the final day, there will be a heck of a lot of twists, turns, birls and twirls to come in this fascinating, fluctuating fight.

“I’ve been saying from the off that this is going to be a tight match,” said the GB&I captain Stuart Wilson, who watched his Scottish compatriots, Calum Scott and Connor Graham, pitch in with a foursomes win before Scott added to his tally with a terrific singles conquest to bolster the home assault.

“The Americans came out strong in the afternoon and went up in a lot of matches through the front nine, but our guys showed grit and determination and kept fighting. We’re taking nothing for granted. A putt here and there can make such a big difference.”

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There is something delightfully old school about this cherished golfing affair. The big scoreboard in the media center, for instance, is kept updated by a band of eager volunteers filling in the hole-by-hole of each match with numbered stickers peeled from an A4 sheet. In a whiz-bang age of gizmos, gadgets and gee-whiz contraptions, it’s almost as antiquated a process as shoving on a powdered wig. Funnily enough, some of the golf writers still wear such hairpieces.

There was plenty for us to write home about too. The morning foursomes provided considerable cheer for those of a GB&I persuasion as the hosts forged a 3-1 advantage. It was the first time they had won a foursomes session in the event since 2015. And the scoreline back then? Well, it was also 3-1 and GB&I went on to win the whole thing. They’ve not won it since. In the Walker Cup, we tend to cling to any good omen as strongly as a barnacle anchored to the hull of a galleon.

The home side certainly prospered on a balmy September day in the Auld Grey Toun. The alliance of Scott and Graham, who is the youngest ever Walker Cupper at just 16, dovetailed superbly against Ben James and Caleb Surrat and were 6 under in a fine 3-and-2 victory.

The ebb-and-flow, nip-and-tuck and whatever else you want to call matchplay golf was perfectly illustrated, meanwhile, in the last two encounters which were decided on the 18th.

Preston Summerhays, partnering with David Ford, had a putt of just a couple of feet to pinch a half-point against the GB&I duo of Matthew McClean and John Gough but he missed amid gasps and groans and the hosts clung on for a one-hole win.

Moments later, Nick Dunlap, the U.S. Amateur champion, saw his eagle putt rattle the hole but stay out. Alex Maguire, the St Andrews Links Trophy winner, then trundled in a 12-footer to clinch another one-hole triumph for GB&I and punched the air with such gusto, the very air was just about left nursing a bruise. Pride and passion were everywhere.

The singles too served up some thrilling fare as GB&I edged the session 4 ½-3 ½ during an absorbing afternoon. Leads changed hands and various bouts could have swung either way. Four of the eight ties went the full distance while Scott vanquished Nick Gabrelcik with a hole to spare after a late burst of birdies at 16 and 17 gave him a terrific 2-and-1 victory.

“That’s as good as it gets,” said the 20-year-old from Nairn with a beam that glistened like the buffed-up Walker Cup itself. “To birdie the last two holes to close out a really tight match just means the world to me. I am so delighted to have played that well under pressure.”

Englishman Gough was just as chipper as he won the first five holes against Dunlap en route to a thumping 6-and-5 win. It had been a good day for GB&I.

As for the USA? “It wasn’t the day we were looking for,” admitted the visiting captain, Mike McCoy. Sunday is another golfing day, however. It should be a corker.