Dreams will come true this weekend at Seminole Golf Club in Florida where the 48th Walker Cup is being played. You can be sure that the twenty players teeing it up and representing their respective countries will have snuggled into bed thousands of times during their adolescent years with thoughts of this moment on their minds. And now it’s about to happen for the first time for sixteen of those twenty young men. There are three returning members for the United States team and one for the Great Britain and Ireland side, Alex Fitzpatrick, younger brother of Walker and Ryder Cup player Matt.In case you’re wondering, the Walker Cup, the pinnacle of men’s amateur golf, is a biennial match between teams of ten players from the States and Great Britain and Ireland. It’s a bit of a throwback in that it is only a two-day match with foursomes and singles each day, no fourballs in sight. In the modern era players tend to move quickly on to the paid ranks and so it’s rare to have a player making his third appearance in the match, as is happening this year for America’s Stewart Hagestad. Long gone are the days when Ireland’s Joe Carr and America’s Jay Sigel played on ten and nine sides respectively.
This, however, is a Walker Cup with a difference and no amount of dreaming or daydreaming as youngsters could have conjured up the realities of this (hopefully) post-pandemic match. Attendance at the venue is severely restricted with a Covid testing system in place in the lead up to, and for the duration of, the match. Testing will continue after the event for all those based in, and returning to, Great Britain and Ireland. It’s a logistical challenge which has resulted in fewer than 1850 people allowed on site each day – and that includes teams, captains, media, members of Seminole, past players, USGA and R&A officials, as well as all the outdoor and indoor course and clubhouse staff. Alas, to my knowledge, there is no room for Mums, Dads, siblings, proud families, coaches, trainers and the myriad support networks of the players who have climbed this particular Everest. With no dispensation allowing for travel from these shores to the States, it must be heartbreaking to be unable to attend the proudest moment of your son’s golfing career to date.
That is the lot of Eileen Rose and Eddie Power, parents of Kilkenny’s Mark Power. Both Mum and Dad know what it takes to be a golf champion, having won three Irish titles apiece and Eileen Rose played in the Curtis Cup (the women’s equivalent of the Walker Cup) back in the early 1990s. It looks as though they’ll have to be glued to the telly this weekend rather than following their son round the iconic Seminole golf course. I know I’d have been devastated if my Mum and Dad had not been able to attend the Curtis Cup I played in – they were so pivotal to everything I achieved and they walked every step of the way with me, metaphorically, if not physically. It’s all too easy to overlook the decades of effort parents put in to their children and their chosen sports and hobbies. Whatever the outcome, what a proud moment it is for the whole family and for the families of all the players.The Americans are overwhelming favourites this year, with all but one of their number inside the top seventeen of the world rankings and, of course, they have home advantage. Also, their captain, Nathaniel Crosby is a member of Seminole and well acquainted with its demanding traits and subtleties. The US players have also played much more competitive golf than some of our players during lockdown. Our American-based players didn’t fare too badly but the last fourteen months have been tough going for those based on this side of the Atlantic.
Remember, though, this is matchplay golf over two days and anything can happen. The matches may appear unbalanced on paper but let’s wait and see – and fingers crossed there are no Covid hiccoughs to disrupt the week of a lifetime for these young men.
Many of today’s top ranked players have a Walker Cup cap tucked away in their treasure chest of prized possessions. Back in 1997 when Justin Rose played in the match as a 17 year old he was, at the time, the youngest player to do so. Despite all his accomplishments since then the Walker Cup holds a special place in his heart and I’m sure (as with all past players) he’ll be keeping a weather eye on proceedings at Seminole.
He’ll also be paying close attention to matters on this side of the Atlantic where the second edition of the Rose Ladies’ Series got underway last week. The 2020 brainchild of professional Liz Young, which was so ably expanded and backed by Justin and his wife Kate, has expanded this year into eleven one-day events, the first two of which are already in the books. Gabs Cowley pocketed a cool £10,000 for winning at West Lancs golf course last week and yesterday, fittingly, was the turn of the inspiration behind the series, Liz Young, at Woburn over the Duchess course.
The aim of the series is to provide much-needed competitive play and plug some gaps in the Ladies’ European Tour schedule and the Roses have personally financed getting this venture off the ground. The effect of having someone of Justin’s stature recognise the value of women’s professional golf and step in to help can’t be underestimated. We’re lucky to have him.That 1997 Walker Cup was the platform for a remarkable career and an important experience in making the man we all know today. I wonder if when watching the twenty players in the Walker Cup this weekend we will be witnessing someone take the first steps on the road to a Justin Rose-like career? Now, that would be fun.