Walker Cup starts 2021's transatlantic team tussles with Curtis, Ryder and Solheim Cups to follow

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
The US team celebrates with the trophy after winning the Walker Cup at Hoylake in 2019
The US team beat GB&I 15½-10½ at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, in 2019

This weekend marks the first engagement in a unique quartet of transatlantic tussles that promise to make 2021 a year like no other for fans of elite team golf.

Never before have the Walker, Curtis, Ryder and Solheim Cups all been played in the same year. Due to the havoc wreaked to sporting calendars by the global pandemic, however, we have all four matches to enjoy this year.

It means the best male and female amateurs from Great Britain and Ireland will be taking on their American counterparts, before Europe's professionals face the United States in early autumn.

First up is the Walker Cup at the famed Seminole Golf Club in Florida this weekend (8-9 May) when Stuart Wilson's GB&I team seeks to wrestle back the trophy from a US side led for the second time by Nathanial Crosby.

Tickets have sold out for the limited numbers allowed to watch what is always one of the most captivating of golf events. The Walker Cup is a truly special fixture, offering a glimpse of the future in intimate but passionate surrounds.

Record major winner Jack Nicklaus once said of the match that it "personified sport at its best, people at their best, the world at its best". Maybe a little over the top, but you get the gist.

It is a match where the spectators walk with the players. They are invariably appreciative die-hards while the golfers are among the most promising talents on the planet.

US PGA champion Collin Morikawa was in the US team the last time the match was staged in America. That line up also included current PGA Tour stars Scottie Scheffler, Cameron Champ, Doc Redman and Masters runner-up Will Zalatoris.

Among the beaten GB&I team were Scots Bob MacIntyre and Connor Syme, along with fellow European Tour players Matthew Jordan and Jack Singh Brar.

The last time the US were beaten, at Royal Lytham in 2015, they had Bryson Dechambeau among their number while Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay, Harris English and Russell Henley were in the losing team at Royal Aberdeen in 2011.

Many of Europe's greatest golfers including, Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell, Danny Willett, Colin Montgomerie, Luke Donald, Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood are former Walker Cup players.

Talk to any of them and they will tell you of their fond memories of representing GB&I in this biennial match, the concept of which was first dreamed up with an unofficial match prior to the Amateur Championship at Hoylake a century ago.

The US have dominated, winning 37 of the 47 matches to date, and they are firm favourites again this weekend. GB&I have not won an away contest for 20 years.

Back in 2001 they famously romped to victory at Ocean Forest on Sea Island in Georgia. Donald and McDowell were joined by the likes of Nick Dougherty, Michael Hoey, Richard McEvoy and Marc Warren for that 15-9 triumph.

All of that special crop of players then embarked on successful professional careers.

This time GB&I have been hampered by the withdrawal through injury of Scotland's amateur world number eight Sandy Scott, their highest ranked player.

Captain Wilson fields a team that includes for the second time Alex Fitzpatrick, the younger brother of 2013 Walker Cupper Matt, the current world number 17, who went on to play in the 2016 Ryder Cup team.

The younger Fitzpatrick has been posting encouraging results while studying at Wake Forest in North Carolina, winning the Valspar Collegiate title earlier this year and finishing runner-up in the prestigious Jones Cup at Sea Island.

Fitzpatrick, 22, plays alongside Wake Forest team-mate Mark Power. The Irishman was a semi-finalist at last year's Amateur Championship at Royal Birkdale and runner up at the Brabazon Trophy.

Angus Flanagan is another precocious talent, the 21-year-old Englishman played his way into February's Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles and at another PGA Tour event, the 2020 3M Open, posted two respectable rounds of 73 to miss the cut at four over par.

Both experiences will serve him well in the foursomes and singles contests to come. They invariably prove the pinnacle of an amateur career for those geographically eligible for these matches.

Crosby's American line up this weekend looks typically formidable. In Pierceson Coody, Davis Thompson and John Pak they have three of the four highest ranked amateurs in the world.

Great Britain and Ireland will need to harness the spirit that has traditionally served Europe so well in Ryder and Solheim Cups, coming up with combinations that make the team greater than the sum of its parts.

It is not beyond them, but gaining an advantage from the four foursomes matches on the Saturday and Sunday mornings will be vital. They will remember that at Hoylake two years ago the US won 8 of the closing 10 singles to regain the trophy.

The Walker Cup will not necessarily set the tone for the remaining transatlantic showdowns but it should whet the appetite for August's Curtis Cup at Conwy in Wales before Europe defend the Solheim and Ryder Cups in the US in September.

Teams

United States
NameAgeStateAmateur world ranking
Ricky Castillo20California10
Pierceson Coody21Texas2
Quade Cummins24Oklahoma17
Austin Eckroat22Oklahoma13
Stewart Hagestad29California14
Cole Hammer21Texas18
William Mouw20California27
John Pak22New Jersey4
Tyler Strafaci22Florida9
Davis Thompson21Georgia3
Great Britain and Ireland
NameAgeCountry Amateur world ranking
Barclay Brown20England71
Jack Dyer23England208
Alex Fitzpatrick22England12
Angus Flanagan21England40
Ben Jones21England53
Matty Lamb23England103
Joe Long23England28
John Murphy22Ireland117
Mark Power20Ireland32
Ben Schmidt18England33

Format

Day one: Four morning foursomes and eight afternoon singles.

Day Two: Four morning foursomes and 10 afternoon singles.

GB&I need 13½ points to regain the trophy, the US need 13 points to retain it.

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