Walker Cup

Wilson ready for new memories on the Old Course

The R&A
31 Aug 23
3 mins

For Stuart Wilson, memories of the Old Course bring out a smile. Come this Sunday evening, he hopes another memorable chapter can be added to his St Andrews scrapbook.

The 46-year-old Scot is captaining a talented Great Britain and Ireland side in the 49th Walker Cup against the United States of America – two years after skippering a narrow defeat at Seminole – and has his own amateur experiences to draw on. Twenty years ago, in the Walker Cup in 2003, he was a member of the winning GB&I team at Ganton. A year later, he then won The Amateur Championship over the Old Course at St Andrews with a 4&3 win over Lee Corfield in the Final. He went on to win the Silver Medal as low amateur in The 133rd Open at Royal Troon later that year and compete in the 2005 Masters Tournament. It’s an impressive amateur CV.

Excitement in St Andrews

“The Walker Cup in St Andrews has been a long time in the planning, but of all a sudden it came round pretty quick,” said Wilson. “Now we’re here, the team is all together and we’re just loving it. We all know the course well after our various team sessions this year – and it’s obviously a venue I have fond memories of. “The selection process is always tricky and we’ve selected the players that we think will give us the best chance of securing a point, those that won’t crumble under the pressure or fade away.” Forfar’s Wilson, who also captained last year’s GB&I team when they beat the Continent of Europe in the St Andrews Trophy and led European teams in the Junior Ryder Cup in 2012 and 2014, hopes to draw on local knowledge this weekend but also two other factors – namely the match play format and a home crowd. Alternate shot golf is largely new to a young USA side, yet the home players are comfortable with it going back to their blossoming club amateur days.

Stuart Wilson - Great Britain and Ireland Captain

“Over the piece, the history of the Walker Cup tells us that America will always be favourites. But, certainly since maybe the mid-1990s, home advantage has really come into play. It’s just not golf, it’s any sport, home advantage is a big thing."

Match play knowledge

“The guys are so familiar with playing match play, foursomes and singles,” said Wilson. “The Irish guys probably play more than anybody to be fair, so they are always strong in match play. The more times you are in that environment or playing that format the more you are familiar with it so it should give the guys a good grounding. “And I hope the crowd plays its part. I know there will be a good, strong US contingent given the historical connection of the match, 100 years since it was played in St Andrews. It’s a great draw for people to come over and watch the Walker Cup in the UK. But I’m hoping there is a strong local crowd as well and I’m sure St Andrews, Fife and Scotland will come and turn out for it.” With the foursomes matches starting the contest early on Saturday morning, Wilson is obviously keen for a strong start – making his partnerships all important. “The guys have got an idea themselves,” he admitted. “Part of the process is that we speak to the guys, it’s an open forum. We want the guys to get the partner they want as well.

Partnerships key

“We’re not in that traditionalist mindset though where the Scottish guys, the Irish guys, the English guys will just be paired up because it makes sense. What we want to do is find the right characters and people they are comfy with, matching them up. You might see something different. “We’ve tried to keep it low key at the start of the week and then ramp up the intensity as the week goes on. The guys have responded well to everything we’re doing. We’ve managed to get a lot of support in place, like with physios and nutritionists. We’ve used the time wisely and Thursday and Friday will be more intensive on the Old for practice.” Only three of the last 15 Walker Cup matches have been won by the away side, a fact that gives the hosts hope of following their last victory at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2015.

Home advantage

Then Scottish players Ewen Ferguson and Grant Forrest – both now DP World Tour winners – were part of the victorious side under the leadership of Nigel Edwards. Can home pair Calum Scott and Connor Graham, at 16 years and ten months the youngest player ever to compete in a Walker Cup, play a similar role eight years later? Wilson said, “Over the piece, the history of the Walker Cup tells us that America will always be favourites. But, certainly since maybe the mid-1990s, home advantage has really come into play. It’s just not golf, it’s any sport, home advantage is a big thing. “It’s definitely something we will play on and look to put to our advantage. The guys certainly feel comfortable out there. I would like to see the guys going head to head without having to battle the elements, even though the Americans might not be used to a links wind.”