Walker Cup. Ross Parker/R&A
You may have heard this before in a golf context. Walker Cups, like every other golf competition, are played on grass and not, as the tired old cliché has it, on paper. Which is perhaps just as well for the 10-man Great Britain & Ireland side that this weekend will attempt to wrest the trophy out of American hands over the Old Course at St Andrews.
Reading over, under and between the lines, the US team led by captain Mike McCoy are the overwhelming favourites to retain the trophy the visitors have owned since 2017. Certainly, history, current form and just about any statistic you care to mention is strongly on the side of the Americans in a series that currently stands at 38-9-1 in their favour.
- While amateur rankings are open to legitimate scrutiny, not the least in how the formula is skewed towards the American college system, the difference in World Amateur Golf Ranking between the two sides is vast. The USA team feature eight of the current top 10 players (and it would have been nine had No. 2 Michael Thorbjornsen not withdrawn through injury) with an average position of 8.2 for the 10 members of the team. In vivid and perhaps telling contrast, GB&I’s average ranking is 87.4, with John Gough most prominent at No. 14. Only two others, Barclay Brown and Calum Scott, are inside the top 50.
- Speaking of Scott and Gough, the pair do bring a bit of novelty value to the GB&I squad. Both have brothers who have played in a previous Walker Cup match (Conor Gough and Sandy Scott both played in 2019 at Royal Liverpool). The Goughs and the Scotts are the fifth and sixth sets of brothers to have played in the Walker Cup.
- Also on the novelty front: At age 16 years, 10 months and 9 days, Scotland’s Connor Graham becomes the youngest player on either team to compete in a Walker Cup.
- All told, 39 US Walker Cup players have gone on to win major championships, 93 to be exact (21 Masters, 32 US Opens, 20 PGA Championships and 20 Open Championships). As is always the case when Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods come up, the two most successful major champions account for a big chunk of the conversation — 33 combined. But still, even without the “big two”, 60 majors have been won by Americans as opposed to 13 won by GB&I players.
- To be fair, GB&I are competitive in at least one category. In the previous 48 Walker Cup matches 613 players have featured for the two sides (307 players for the USA and 306 for GB&I). After this year, those figures will increase to 630 overall, 316 for the USA and 314 for GB&I.
- And yes, there is at least a little hope of a home victory. St Andrews is the only Walker Cup venue that GB&I have won at on more than one occasion, in 1938 and 1971. Those were GB&I’s first two victories in the series. On the other hand, 1971 was the only victory registered by Euro representatives between ’38 and 1989. And of the eight previous Walker Cups at the Home of Golf, the USA team has won six.
- One last thing, a straw that may be grasped in desperation by the more superstitious members of the home team and support. There are four Irish players in this year’s GB&I team, the most since 2015 at Royal Lytham. And that was the last time the Americans relinquished their hold on the Walker Cup.