A half an inch, a half a point. That’s how close the 40th Walker Cup Match was on Sunday at Chicago Golf Club.
Great Britain and Ireland did everything it could to win a fourth consecutive Match, throwing one dramatic and unbelievable shot after another at the United States of America at the 18th hole.
But Jeff Overton coolly two-putted from 18 feet to secure a 1-up victory over 37-year-old Nigel Edwards of Wales, giving the Americans just enough points to re-capture the Cup, 12½-11½.
Overton made a superb up-and-down save for par at the 17th hole after his drive found the high fescue to maintain his 1-up advantage going to 18. Each player found the green with their approach shots, with Edwards landing 35 feet above the hole. The three-time GB&I Walker Cupper nearly completed a four-of-a-kind of hole-outs, just burning the right edge with his birdie putt. Overton then lagged his birdie putt to a foot, setting off a wild celebration among the USA players.
“It was the experience of a lifetime,” said Overton, a recent Indiana University who eschewed turning pro this summer to have an opportunity to play on the USA team. He finished with a 3-1 record, tying Lee Williams as the leading point-getter for the squad.
USA captain Bob Lewis called the Match “the greatest Walker Cup that was ever played.”
“I’m so proud of my team,” said Lewis. “The players acted like a team. It’s the way you want to dream about going out as a captain.”
Certainly people will remember what happened at 18 for a long time. The USA was poised to win two matches and get at least a half-point in a third, but GB&I had other ideas.
First it was 16-year-old Oliver Fisher rolling in an 18-foot birdie to get a half-point against Michael Putnam. It was the second time the youngest player in Cup history had downed the reigning NCAA Division I runner-up in singles. Fisher and Putnam shot the equivalent of 3-under-par 67s (with match-play concessions). In Saturday’s 2-up victory, Fisher shot 66 to Putnam’s 67.
“To make that putt [on 18], shows some guts,” said Putnam. “I had two really good matches with him. For a 16-year-old, he’s pretty good.”
Then it was Robert Dinwiddie holing a chip from the rough short of the green from 30 feet for another birdie and a crucial half-point. That came immediately after Matt Every lipped out his chip shot.
“That’s a bit overwhelming,” said an elated Dinwiddie, who lost holes 15 and 16 to birdies.
Added Every: “It was just tough. I thought I was going to win it. I pulled to all square at 15 and completely out-played him. It was unbelievable that the chip went in.”
Lloyd Saltman, the low amateur at the 2005 British Open, followed with a 20-foot birdie putt to get a 1-up win over Kyle Reifers. Suddenly, the USA now needed a full point from Overton to re-capture the Cup. GB&I could have forged a 12-12 and retained the Cup.
“At the time it was awesome,” said Saltman. “The Walker Cup is massive, so it was very important and it kept the team in it at the time. I went eagle-par-birdie on the last three holes. I can’t believe we didn’t win after I was able to do that.”
Earlier in singles, Gary Wolstenholme became GB&I’s all-time points leader by holding off Anthony Kim, 1 up. Wolstenholme now has 10 points, one more than Sir Michael Bonallack, a nine-time Walker Cupper who has won five British Amateur titles and is the former Secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.
Wolstenholme built a 4-up lead through 10 holes, only to see Kim rally to win 12 and 14 with short birdie putts and 17 with a par. He missed birdie putts of 6 feet and 4 feet on 15 and 16, respectively, to win holes. At 18, Kim had one more chance but left his 15-footer to the left, and Wolstenholme chipped from the left rough to 4 feet and calmly holed the putt.
“[The record] crossed my mind as I stood over that last putt,” said Wolstenholme, a six-time Walker Cupper and two-time British Amateur champion. “Fortunately, despite the jitters, I managed to pull through. Being the point leader was an ambition of mine, but hopefully that’s not the end of it.”
Brian Harman of the USA ended Rhys Davies’ bid to have an undefeated match with a 6-and-5 victory. The 18-year-old from Savannah, Ga., who won the 2003 U.S. Junior and is the youngest player in USA Walker Cup history, was the equivalent of 5 under par with the usual match-play concessions over his 13 holes. Harman finished his first Walker Cup with a 2-0-1 mark and was the only unbeaten American.
“I’m a gamer, I will always be there,” said Harman. “I played my heart out and that’s what can happen.
“To make my birdie on the first hole, set the tone. I was high-steppin’ after that.”
GB&I’s Matthew Richardson also closed out his match early, defeating John Holmes, 5 and 4.
Williams of the USA, the lone holdover from the 2003 squad, finished with a 3-1 record with a 4-and-3 win over Gary Lockerbie. Williams took control by winning holes 4, 7 and 11 for a 3-up lead.
“[Captain] Lewis put me in the seventh spot two years ago, but I handled the situation a whole lot better this time,” said Williams, who batted clean-up in singles both days. “I felt like I could get the job done, and thank God I did.”
In the morning foursomes, each team posted two victories. Holmes and Nick Thompson provided a huge lift for the USA with a 2-and-1 win over Fisher and Richardson. That allowed the Americans to maintain their one-point edge heading into the eight singles matches.
Kim and Harman earned the USA’s other point with a thorough 4-and-2 victory over Saltman and Richie Ramsay.
GB&I countered with a 2-and-1 victory from Davies and Edwards over the American duo of Every and Williams. It was Williams’ first defeat of this Match after going 2-0 on Saturday. Lockerbie and Dinwiddie of GB&I made seven birdies over 15 holes in a 5-and-3 victory over Overton and Putnam.
Kim and Harman, who rallied from a 3-down deficit in Saturday’s foursome match to earn a half-point, wasted no time jumping on their GB&I counterparts, winning the first two holes with pars. At the par-4 fifth hole, Harman drove the ball 50 yards from the flag. Kim stepped up and knocked a 60-degree wedge into the hole for an eagle-2 and a 3-up lead.
Kim, a first-team All-America this past season at the University of Oklahoma, and Harman were the equivalent of 4 under par through 16 holes, with two eagles and two birdies.
“We knew it was going to be important to play well early,” said Kim. “We just tried to come out here and make as many birdies as we could early. We didn’t want to make any stupid mistakes and give away holes.”