2023 GB&I Walker Cup Hopefuls Gather in St. Andrews
Stuart Wilson is hoping he can pass on his local knowledge to aid Great Britain and Ireland’s Walker Cup chances as his squad met in St Andrews for the first time this week.
The GB&I Captain welcomed 10 home-based players who are aiming for selection in the team to play the United States of America in the 49th staging of the historic match.
The biennial encounter will be played over the renowned Old Course on Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 September, marking 100 years since the match was first played at the home of golf.
Players including last year’s Lytham Trophy winner John Gough, reigning R&A Junior Open Champion Connor Graham and Irishman Hugh Foley, runner-up in the US Mid-Amateur last autumn, were among those honing their skills on the Old Course as part of the squad gathering.
Wilson has fond memories of St Andrews after winning The Amateur Championship in the Fife town back in 2004 and hopes his experience of the venue benefits his team.
“It’s tremendous to get the home-based players altogether for a chance to look around and get to know each other,” said Wilson of the two-day session. “They are excited to be playing here in St Andrews.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to get together, bond and gel as a team. The majority of the guys know one another but it’s a different dynamic coming together as a team. It’s about trying to foster all the good relationships and team spirit.
“It’s also giving them familiarisation with St Andrews, the golf course and the places we might eat at during the week. We also had some local caddies to give us some more insight into how they might play the Old.”
GB&I is aiming to win back the trophy after narrowly losing 14-12 to the USA at Seminole in 2021, when Wilson was also captain. The final 10-man team will be announced in August.
“I’m excited about the squad,” added Wilson, who has also been a St Andrews Trophy Captain for GB&I and Junior Ryder Cup Captain for Europe. “The majority of the young players have international experience already having played for GB&I at boys’ level. It’s a bit of a progression for them being here really. But the team will not necessarily come from the squad, anyone can play their way in throughout this year. This is just the initial stage of preparation.
“Including Seminole, I’ve been involved in a lot of international matches and there is always something that you learn from or key themes that keep getting repeated – either good or bad – so you know what to be looking out for. You are looking for those pearls of wisdom to pass onto the guys. I’ll try to draw on all my international experiences.”
Forfar player Wilson, who is the Managing Secretary at The Blairgowrie Golf Club in Perthshire, was one of Scotland’s finest amateur golfers.
His victory in The Amateur in 2004 included defeating 2018 Champion Golfer of the Year Francesco Molinari in the quarter-finals and he is well-placed to lead the GB&I side on such familiar turf.
“People still remember ‘04 which is nice,” he smiled. “Having won The Amateur, it’s amazing what it does for you in your golfing life. Golf has been really good to me, I’ve been really blessed to have the sport in my life.
“I’ve been coming to St Andrews for years, it feels like home, and I’m fortunate enough to have a Links Ticket now and play on a reasonably regular basis. But it’s been a long time since my competitive days at the Links Trophy or playing The Amateur and this week is also about formulating a game plan and seeing how the course is playing.
“The Old Course was obviously well-documented last year with The 150th Open when it was playing hard and fiery. I don’t think it will be playing the same in September but a lot of the guys will have been familiar with it after seeing it on the television last summer.”
With tickets for the Walker Cup going on sale in April, Wilson is hoping for a strong home support come the autumn. Recent Walker Cup players include 2022 Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, now the world number one, two-time major champion Collin Morikawa and Scottish star Robert MacIntyre, to highlight what spectators can expect.
He added, “It would be great to think golf fans will turn out to support the guys. Certainly from looking at the roster of Walker Cup players from over the years, there are a lot of household names now that have played in the match. Fans will genuinely be coming along to watch the stars of the future. It’s a super event over the two days, with the match play format.
“I think in any sport, whether it is football, golf, rugby, home advantage is something you would always like to have. We’re delighted it’s here at St Andrews and I would think the GB&I support will be pretty strong. Hopefully the guys feel comfortable playing in their own backyard.”
Feb 10, 2023