ST. ANDREWS — The underdogs could not become the top dogs. At the end of the 2023 Walker Cup here in sun-soaked St. Andrews it was the USA who were the best in show as a team jam-packed with talent flung a star-spangled spanner into Great Britain & Ireland’s hopes of a famous win.
The hosts led by three points going into the closing day at the Old Course but the U.S., with eight of the world’s top-10 players in their midst and a strength in depth that is deeper than a burial at sea, were simply too good. Those global rankings don’t tell fibs. A Foursomes fightback and a singles surge completed a 14 ½ – 11 ½ triumph.
The supremely gifted Gordon Sargent, the No 1 amateur on this birling clump of space rock, reeled off four wins out of four during the two-day tussle as the USA claimed a fourth successive victory in the biennial bout.
For Scotsman Stuart Wilson, it was a second defeat as a GB&I Walker Cup captain. Losing is never easy to stomach.
“The Americans just handled the conditions slightly better than us, and, without being too harsh, I’m sure our boys will be quite disappointed in the way they played themselves,” he said. “They tried their hardest, but they didn’t turn up with their ‘A’ games I would say in some matches. I think the guys will be hurting.”
A bright and breezy day had dawned with GB&I holding the kind of comfortable cushion you would get in a Bedouin tent. That three-point lead forged on Saturday’s opening series of jousts was certainly handy. In the ebb-and-flow of match play golf, however, such an advantage can become as brittle as the autoclaved aerated concrete that is hogging the headlines just now.
The USA came out fighting in the morning foursomes and won the session 3-1 to haul themselves to within a point. “We got the morning we needed,” said Mike McCoy, the U.S. captain, of a telling thrust. The fact that 12 of the 16 matches played in the whole contest at that stage had reached at least the 16th green underlined the closeness of the tussle.
Recent history, though, provided a shudder of foreboding for GB&I. The 8 ½ – 7 ½ lead they held going into the singles yesterday was the same as the advantage they had at the same point at Hoylake in 2019. And the U.S. went on to win eight of the 10 afternoon ties that year to romp to victory.
Cue another singles tsunami? Well, a 7-3 sweep in the afternoon was certainly a comprehensive return as the U.S. eased over the winning line.
Calum Scott lost to Caleb Surratt, 3 and 2, in the opening tie as the U.S. drew level and when 32-year-old Stewart Hagestad beat 16-year-old Connor Graham by a similar margin, the visitors went ahead on points for the first time. They would not surrender their authority and set about fortifying that position.
They were given a little helping hand at times too. In a crucial match, GB&I’s Barclay Brown had been 3 up with four to play in the second match against U.S. Amateur champion Nick Dunlap but the momentum swung as wildly as a pendulum in a gale. Brown stumbled down the stretch and finally three-putted the 18th to give Dunlap an unlikely half-point. It was a morale-sapping blow for GB&I. For the USA, it was another high-fiving, back-slapping boost.
The marquee match involving Sargent and the sprightly John Gough, meanwhile, certainly stirred the senses. Gough, playing in his last event as an amateur, holed his second shot for an eagle on the sixth amid giddy scenes. It was Sargent, though, who came out on top and won on the last green as the U.S. moved to the brink of glory. David Ford’s 4-and-2 win over Alex Maguire got the champagne corks popping.
McCoy was part of the last U.S. side to lose a Walker Cup as a 52-year-old back in 2015 at Royal Lytham. He was going to savor this moment. “This one is going to be a great ride home,” he said with mighty grin. “It’s pretty special. It’s certainly the pinnacle of my golfing life. They (the US players) just played hard, right to the bitter end. I just drove the sunscreen around.”
In the end, it was Team USA who enjoyed another day in the Walker Cup sun.
The event returns in 2025 at Cypress Point Club in Pebble Beach, California before returning to the United Kingdom a year later in 2026 at Lahinch Golf Club in County Clare, Ireland. Future venues already announced include Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (2028), Oakmont Country Club (2032) and Chicago Golf Club (2036).