Aberdeen, Scotland – It’s not often that the visiting team is an overwhelming favorite in the Walker Cup, but when the 43rd edition of this prestigious biennial amateur competition commences Saturday morning at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, the USA will be the expected to retain the cup it regained in 2005 and has kept since.
The Americans’ current three-Match win streak includes its narrow 12½-11½ victory in ’07 at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland.
But each Walker Cup brings new personnel – two players return for the USA and one for Great Britain & Ireland – new expectations and new conditions. And it’s the conditions at Royal Aberdeen that might even the odds a bit over the next two days.
How much will only be known after two sessions of foursomes and two sessions of singles matches, 26 matches in all. But these matches aren’t played on paper, but, rather, on a quintessential links layout hard by the North Sea. There will be wind and rain is in the forecast.
There will be trying times for both teams. How well the Americans manage their games in the adverse conditions they are less accustomed to than their GB&I counterparts will be worth monitoring.
“I think we're all prepared,” said USA captain Jim Holtgrieve, when asked about the challenge of the weather. And it is a challenge; one Scottish writer warned, “that in this country we can have four seasons in one day.”
“Yes, we've seen these four conditions that you speak to,” Holtgrieve said, “but the guys are all prepared for it. They like it. They like the challenge. I feel they're very well prepared after having been here.”
Not as well as the GB&I squad, however. The summer here has been one of the wettest and coolest in memory. Rarely has the temperature been in the 70s.
“The weather conditions … look as if there could be strong winds Saturday afternoon. Yeah, we'd like a little breeze, of course,” said GB&I captain Nigel Edwards, who played in four Walker Cups, the last in 2007. “We've been playing in strong winds all year, and the boys have dealt with it very well from the Lytham Trophy right through to very recently at the Home Internationals at County Sligo. It poured down at Sligo and blew a gale. What it is is what it is, and we'll be prepared for whatever the weather.”
The USA Team arrived in Scotland a week ago. But the weather has been relatively good, with temperatures in the 60s and little rain, though the winds have been lively at times. Saturday’s forecast is for rain and winds of 18 miles per hour gusting to 25 with temperatures in the low 60s. It will turn cold Sunday with a high temperature in the mid-50s with rain and winds of 15 mph expected.
“I'm not so sure the guys like the coldness today,” Holtgrieve after Friday’s abbreviated practice in a chilling rain. “I think that's probably the coldest we've been so far this week. Obviously the moisture is something that I think helps us to get used to and hit different golf shots. I have to be honest with you, since I have played in wind and rain over in Scotland, I hope that we don't have both. I just hope we have wind or the slight rain. [But] it's up to the team. They are the ones that have been playing in it and fighting it, so it's kind of up to them.”
All 10 of the American team members have some experience with the elements, competing in collegiate golf in spring and fall when the weather can bring just about anything. And recent USGA events have been staged on links-type courses, with the U.S. Amateur Public Links at Bandon Dunes and the U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills.
Harris English advanced to the semifinals of the APL at Bandon Dunes in late June, the final three days of which were played in gusty winds.
USA Team members didn’t seem preoccupied by the weather forecast.
“We've seen the course six, seven times, and pretty much every time the weather has been different, the wind has been different and while we've been out there it's changed on us,” Russell Henley said. “I feel like we have experienced pretty much, I don't know, about everything with the weather in Scotland. I think everybody is feeling pretty good.”
“I played college golf over four years, and we played on the same college team and you had tournaments where you had pretty cold weather and some wind and rain at times,” added Harris English, a college teammate with Henley at the University of Georgia, and like Henley won a Nationwide Tour event this summer. “It's just different coming here. Like Russ said, the weather changes so much, and one time can be sunny and hot and five minutes later it could be rainy and cold. It's a challenge, and I think we are looking forward to it.”
Peter Uihlein, who joins Nathan Smith as returning players from the victorious 2009 USA Team at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., said the key to battling the elements is staying cool inside and remembering that no one is immune from the challenges.
“If the weather is bad, then guys you're playing with are playing in the same conditions,” said Uihlein, the 2010 U.S. Amateur champion. “You've just got to embrace it, and you can't have any give‑up in you or any quit, and if you do, then it's going to beat you up. So you've got to keep fighting, keep grinding, and, hopefully, play well.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose material has previously appeared on USGA websites