ST. ANDREWS — The underdogs couldn’t become the top dogs. By the end of the 2023 Walker Cup here in sunny St. Andrews it was the USA who were the best on show as a team packed with talent threw a wrench into Great Britain and Ireland’s hopes of a famous victory.
The hosts led by three points going into the final day on the Old Course, but the United States, with eight of the world’s top-10 players in their midst and a strength in depth deeper than a burial at sea, were simply too good. These global rankings don’t say anything about that. A Foursomes fightback and a singles rise completed a 14 ½ – 11 ½ triumph.
The supremely gifted Gordon Sargent, the No. 1 amateur on this Birling lump of space rock, made it four wins out of four over the two-day match as the USA claimed a fourth successive victory in the biennial contest.
For Scot Stuart Wilson it was a second defeat as GB&I Walker Cup captain. Losing is never easy to stomach.
“The Americans handled the conditions a little better than us, and without being too harsh, I’m sure our boys will be pretty disappointed with the way they played themselves,” he said. “They tried their best, but they didn’t show up with their ‘A’ games, I would say in some games. I think the guys are going to get hurt.”
A bright and breezy day had dawned, with GB&I holding the kind of comfortable pillow you’d get in a Bedouin tent. The three-point lead built in Saturday’s opening series of contests was certainly handy. In the ebb and flow of match play golf, however, such an advantage can become as crazy as the autoclaved aerated concrete that is currently in the headlines.
The USA came out fighting in the morning foursomes, winning the session 3-1 to pull within a point. “We got the morning we needed,” Mike McCoy, the U.S. captain, said of a telling push. The fact that 12 of the 16 matches played throughout the competition at the time had reached at least the 16th green emphasized the closeness of the match.
However, recent history provided a shiver of foreboding for GB&I. The 8 ½ – 7 ½ lead they held in the singles yesterday was the same as the advantage they held at the same time in Hoylake in 2019. And the USA won eight of the 10 afternoon matches that year to romp to victory.
See another singles tsunami? Well, a 7-3 sweep in the afternoon was certainly a comprehensive comeback as the USA eased over the winning streak.
Calum Scott lost to Caleb Surratt, 3 and 2, in the opening game as the USA levelled, 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 give up their authority and set about consolidating that position.
They also got a little helping hand at times. In a decisive match, GB&I’s Barclay Brown had been 3 up with four to play in the second match against American amateur champion Nick Dunlap, but the momentum swung as wildly as a pendulum in a gale. Brown stumbled down the stretch and eventually three-putted the 18th to give Dunlap an improbable half point. It was a deep moral blow for GB&I. For the US, it was another high-fiving, back-patting boost.
The marquee match involving Sargent and the exuberant John Gough, meanwhile, certainly stirred the senses. Gough, playing in his final event as an amateur, hit his second stroke for an eagle at the sixth amid giddy scenes. However, it was Sargent who came out on top, winning on the final green as the US moved to the brink of glory. David Ford’s 4-2 win over Alex Maguire had the champagne corks popping.
McCoy was part of the last American team to lose a Walker Cup at age 52 back in 2015 at Royal Lytham. He wanted to enjoy this moment. “This is going to be a great ride home,” he said with a mighty grin. “It’s pretty special. It’s definitely the highlight of my golf life. They (the American players) just played hard, right to the bitter end. I just ran the sunscreen around.”
In the end, it was Team USA that enjoyed another day in the Walker Cup sun.
The event will return in 2025 at Cypress Point Club in Pebble Beach, California before returning to the UK 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).