ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — American Nick Dunlap had just holed a 50-footer from the green at the Old Course’s par-4 final hole, handing the stage to Alex Maguire, whose foursomes partner James Ashfield had left him 12 feet for birdie after hit his fairway layer a good bit soft. If Maguire’s putt dropped it would give Great Britain and Ireland a 3-1 advantage after Saturday morning’s opening session of the 49.th Walker Cup.
Before entering his battle, Maguire turned to Ashfield and declared: “I’m going to go for it.”
“We just wanted it so badly,” Maguire said afterwards.
The home side dropped the first of four games on the board, a 3-and-2 win by Gordon Sargent and Dylan Menante over veterans Barclay Brown and Mark Power, who could not keep up with the speedy American duo. But GB&I rallied to win the next two and when Maguire’s final putt dropped into the cup, igniting the largely pro-GB&I crowd of a few thousand around the green, as Maguire pumped his right fist in the air in a tight, circular motion, massive underdog had the early upper hand.
“My partner can putt, to be fair, so he was ideal to have over them in that situation,” Ashfield said.
A hole earlier, at St. Andrews’ famous Road Hole, Maguire hit a fist-pumping 10-footer to regain the lead in a match that GB&I had led 3 up after seven holes before Dunlap, the US amateur champion, and Hagestad fought back. The American pair also nearly took a late lead, but Ashfield’s par save from 20 feet tied the score and left the door open for Maguire to sink two clutch putts to win the match, 1 up.
“On the 17th, I tensed my stomach so much and my stomach started to hurt going to the 18th tee, so I had to take a few seconds,” Maguire said.
The feeling a few minutes later was exponentially greater.
“My body really started pumping,” Ashfield said. “I want to get back out there.”
However, Ashfield will be rested for Saturday afternoon’s eight-match singles session. He is joined on the bench by Connor Graham, who at 16 is the youngest entrant in Walker Cup history so far, joining Scot Calum Scott to dispatch Ben James and Caleb Surratt, 3 and 2.
The Americans will sit with James and Menante as they attempt to do something that has never been done at a Walker Cup since the biennial event began awarding half points for ties in 1971: Win after trailing 3-1 or worse after the initial foursomes session. And as the total number of points available increased from 24 to 26 in 2009, three teams (USA in 2009 and GB&I in 2011 and 2015) built 3-1 leads out of the gates before lifting the Cup.
“We came up a couple short,” said U.S. captain Mike McCoy. “We had two good opportunities on the last hole (Preston Summerhays missed a 7-footer for birdie that would have given him and David Ford half a point over Matt McClean and John Gough), and down but not defeated. We will regroup here at lunch and send this strong team out this afternoon to see if we can earn some points. … They know what they have to do. They’ve been preparing for this for a long time. Just get them here on time and unleash them .”
GB&I’s thinking also remains simple.
“If we go out there and win every session, we will win,” Maguire said. “So we’ve done one out of the four.”
SATURDAY FOURSOME’S RESULTS (GB&I 3, US 1)
Gordon Sargent/Dylan Menante (USA) def. Barclay Brown/Mark Power, 3 and 2
Calum Scott/Connor Graham (GB&I) def. Ben James/Caleb Surratt, 3 and 2
Matt McClean/John Gough (GB&I) def. Preston Summerhays/David Ford, 1 op
Alex Maguire/James Ashfield (GB&I) def. Stewart Hagestad/Nick Dunlap, 1 up