Out Of Bounds: Walker Cup prestige offers no future guarantees
Ireland have three representatives in this weekend’s 17th edition at Royal Liverpool
James Sugrue is one of three Irish representatives in thie weekend’s Walker Cup. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
As we all know, there are no guarantees in life; and, in many ways, golf - and the travails of those who want to pursue professional careers - provides as good an indicator as any of that philosophy: and, in that regard, the Walker Cup is the greatest source of false hope.
This weekend’s Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool is the 47th edition of the biennial match between elite amateur men featuring teams comprised of one from Britain and Ireland against another from the United States of America, an amateur version if you will of the Ryder Cup.
It is the pinnacle of team recognition for a player if selected, and - reaffirming the healthy state of the amateur game on this island - there are three Irishmen in the home team: James Sugrue, the current British Amateur champion; Conor Purcell, who is the current holder of the Australian Amateur title, and Caolan Rafferty, who numbers the West of Ireland among the titles in his possession.
For their respective clubs too - Mallow in Sugrue’s case, Portmarnock in Purcell’s and Dundalk in Rafferty’s - this is a huge achievement, as players who learnt their craft on vastly different golfing terrain have achieved common goals in making it onto a team where, among others, Pádraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy also discovered how the Walker Cup can provide a special stepping stone onto bigger and greater things.
And, yet, we know there are no guarantees at all that the pastures will be greener when inevitably this latest trio of Irish Walker Cuppers - the 45th, 46th and 47th from this island to earn the distinction - seek to move into the professional game.
Indeed, we only need to reflect on recent history to know how rocky the path can be: on the last occasion that the Walker Cup was played on this side of the Atlantic, there were a record quintet of Irish players. The Famous Five, as they were known, contributed hugely to a famous 16 ½ to 9 ½ win over the Americans at Royal Lytham & St Annes on the Lancashire coastline; yet, only one, Paul Dunne moved in any seamlessness way from the amateur to the professional ranks with a British Masters win on his CV.
The other four? Gavin Moynihan has secured but struggled to retain his European Tour card, while Cormac Sharvin - a late bloomer in so many ways - has treaded a careful path on the Challenge Tour and, finally, looks set to get his hands on a full European Tour card for the 2020 season. Unfortunately, Gary Hurley’s professional career to date has been bedeviled by injuries, while Jack Hume’s painful flirtation with the professional game was spent in the lower developmental tours.
The professional ranks are the obvious next stage in the careers of Messrs Sugrue (who will obviously wait until after next year’s US Open, given he also has an exemption into next year’s Masters), Purcell and Rafferty.
For now, though, the experience of playing in the Walker Cup - at Hoylake on Saturday and Sunday - is one that should be enjoyed . . . and, of course, it goes without saying that a victory would provide further embellishment to each of their amateur careers.