Aberdeen, Scotland – The comeback kid
Picture the scene. Representing your country for the first time in the Walker Cup, live on the BBC, and your opponent goes and birdies the first five holes.
Instead of waking up from a bad dream, you feel the rain start to fall and an overwhelming desire to throw the game plan out the window. Add to this the fact that you are at an age that the most stressful thing you should be doing is preparing for your driving test.
So it says a lot about the moxie of Rhys Pugh that he walked off the 17th green with a 2-and-1 victory over Patrick Rodgers of the USA.
However, Pugh is not your typical 17-year-old from the South Wales valleys. The youngest man ever to represent Wales – which he did as a 15-year-old in the 2009 Home Internationals – he brings surprisingly extensive experience to Royal Aberdeen Golf Club for the 43rd Match.
“He's a great lad,” said Great Britain & Ireland captain and fellow Welshman Nigel Edwards after Saturday’s single session. “And dealing with that barrage that came at him, five birdies and then Patrick chipped in for birdie on seven. But I saw Rhys come in off the 10th green, and I knew he was okay.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in him, his ability. I’ve played foursomes with him myself for Wales, and he's got me out of trouble lots of times.”
Ask the man himself and he’ll explain how he stuck to the task with the simplicity of a master of his art.
“A fabulous match. It felt like a bit of a dream,” the Welsh Amateur finalist explained.
“It was probably the best I’ve ever seen on those first five holes to be honest, on this course,” added Pugh of Rodgers’ start that saw him shoot the equivalent of 5-under 30 on the outward nine, with the usual match-play concessions. But I just stayed patient. I know the back nine is tough into the wind so I thought, just keep going. I just stuck to my game plan and played one shot at a time.”
One look at Pugh’s swing and it’s clear that he is no stranger to playing in the wind and rain. Playing out of the Vale of Glamorgan, he has been a regular on the amateur scene for a relatively long time, gaining experience on many of the great links courses. He’s also played under pressure before and made it through the other side, beating Gordon Stevens of Scotland by a convincing four strokes in a three-hole playoff to win the Irish Amateur Open at Royal Dublin.
A man of few words, it was telling how his captain knew that Pugh was fine when he saw him at the 10th green on Saturday afternoon.
“Because he's Rhys Pugh,” he explained.
“I just said to him, "Are you okay? And he said, "Yeah, fine." It's difficult with Rhys because he does that all the time. He's very mature for 17. He knows how to get his golf ball around the golf course and he's very patient. He's a great lad.”
Whatever happens on Sunday – he’ll team with Scotland’s James Byrne in morning foursomes and face reigning U.S. Amateur champion Kelly Kraft in afternoon singles – Pugh has already announced himself to the Americans, who will get to know him a whole lot more when he starts teeing it up against them on a regular basis when he enrolls at t East Tennessee State University this fall.
John Robertson is a media and editorial manager for The R&A. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.