Playing for the honour and glory

 

Walker Cup preview:Walker Cup teams

BRITAIN AND IRELAND

Jonathan Caldwell (23):Proved his mettle in helping Ireland to victory in the European Team Championship in July. Returns to complete his studies at the University of Alabama after the Walker Cup.

Rhys Davies (24):Graduate of East Tennessee State, the Welshman is due to turn professional after the Walker Cup. Former British boys' amateur champion.

Nigel Edwards (39):Competing in his fourth Walker Cup, he is director of player development and coaching with the Welsh Golfing Union.

David Horsey (22):Leading qualifier in the British Amateur this year, the Englishman intends to turn professional after the Walker Cup.

Llewellyn Matthews (23):A full-time amateur, Matthews - a Welsh international since 2003 - has enjoyed a fruitful season that included wins in the Welsh amateur championship and the St Andrews Links Trophy.

Rory McIlroy (18):The Walker Cup will be McIlroy's swansong to the amateur game, as he intends to turn professional and will make his debut appearance for pay on tour in the British Masters in two weeks time.

His list of achievements in amateur golf includes victories in the European amateur, silver medallist in the British Open and winning back-to-back Irish Close titles.

Jamie Moul (22):Winner of the Lytham Trophy last season and the Brabazon Trophy this year, Moul is another B&I team member who will move over to the professional ranks after the Walker Cup.

John Parry (20):Making his Walker Cup debut, the Englishman has a big reputation after wins in the Faldo World Series in 2006 and victories in the Spanish Amateur and Welsh strokplay this year.

Lloyd Saltman (21):No stranger to Ireland. The Scot - ranked number three in the world - won the Irish strokeplay this season along with claiming the Lytham Trophy and the Champion of Champions. Due to turn professional after the Walker Cup.

Daniel Willett (19):A student at Jacksonville University in Alabama, Willett has enjoyed a fine season that includes wins in the South of England and the English amateur championship.

UNITED STATES

Richie Fowler (18);Making his Walker Cup debut, the Californian is currently fifth in the official world amateur rankings.

Billy Horschel (20):Shot a round of 60 in the first round of qualifying for last year's US Amateur. Is making his Walker Cup debut.

Dustin Johnson (23):Graduate of Coastal Carolina University, Johnson was the 'Big South' Conference player of the year in 2007. Ranked number two in the world.

Chris Kirk (22):Top collegiate golfer in the United States in 2007, Kirk - a student at the University of Georgia - played for the US in last year's Eishenhower Trophy.

Colt Knost (22):Looking forward to playing in the US Masters next April, having earned an invite with his recent win in the US Amateur Championship. Ranked number one in the latest world amateur rankings.

Trip Kuehne (35):The experienced head on the US team, Kuehne played in the 1995 and 2003 Walker Cup teams (both losing teams). Runs his own investment company.

Jamie Lovemark (19):A student at the University of Southern California, Lovemark won the NCAA individual title this year. Has already played on the US Tour, on a special invitation at the AT&T National, where he made the cut.

Jonathan Moore (22):Qualified to play last year's US Open at Winged Foot, he is a seasoned team player having represented the US in the Eisenhower Trophy in 2006 and the Copa de las Americas Championship this year.

Webb Simpson (21):A proven winner on the American amateur circuit, Simpson - who studies religion at Wake Forest University - is making his Walker Cup debut.

Kyle Stanley (19):A late addition to the US team, Stanley was the individual runner-up at this year's NCAA championship and played in the US Tour's Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill on a special invite in May.

Who can blame players with a special gift if the overwhelming temptation is to turn professional? And, in truth, many of those competing in this 41st staging of the Walker Cup over the beautiful links of Royal Co Down will - some quicker than others - walk away from amateur golf and seek to earn a living that enables them to fasten the seatbelt behind the wheel of a Ferrari.

For now, though, it is all about the honour and the glory.

For the next two days, the best amateur players from the United States, the holders, and Britain and Ireland will go into head-to-head combat with none of the crass commercialism of the Ryder Cup.

They won't be playing for euro or pounds or dollars; and, in a throwback to golf's olden days, will have the fairways behind them lined with thousands upon thousands of spectators eager to examine the ball flight into greens that likely will enthral and frustrate in equal measure.

That Rory McIlroy, the poster boy of amateur golf on this side of the Atlantic, is playing adds a considerable amount of spice to what should be a special occasion. For good measure, McIlroy - along with Jonathan Caldwell, Ireland's other representative in the 10-man home team - will be propelled directly into a high octane foursomes match against Colt Knost and Dustin Johnson, respectively the number one and two ranked players in the amateur world rankings. It couldn't be a harder ask, or a more appealing proposition.

Gone, too, are the days when B and I entered the fray as underdogs. The recent history of the Walker Cup is one of the Americans, for the most part, playing second fiddle. The reason, according to the home captain Colin Dalgleish, is that players are getting more opportunities to compete around the globe.

"If you look, 15 or 20 years ago players weren't going to play in the South African amateur or the Australian amateur. It's totally changed. We've got players going to Venezuela, Argentina, Australia before Christmas.

So it is 12 months now and they just keep going and keep practising and keep working at every aspect of their game. Everyone who wants to be a successful professional at the highest level is going to it at the nth degree. I suspect part of that is to do with Tiger Woods," said Dalgleish.

Certainly, the British and Irish players are globetrotting amateurs who have learnt the habit of winning all around the world.

For instance, David Horsey has won in Greece, McIlroy in Italy and Spain, Parry in Denmark . . . while five of the Americans are competing outside of the US for the first time and links golf is something that was alien to most of them prior to undertaking the trip here this week.

In fairness, they are great players and fast learners and, apart from intense familiarisation at RCD, the Americans also undertook familiarisation visits to Portmarnock and Royal Dublin ahead of this match.

One thing that has come as a pleasant surprise to the US team is the weather.

"I think the difficulties of playing on foreign soil has been mitigated by the weather conditions. We were expecting a much more severe challenge regarding the weather with wind and possibly rain. We'll keep our fingers crossed. We'd like the weather not to be the issue, as opposed to the golf," said US captain Buddy Marucci.

If B and I captain Dalgleish is unhappy with the benign conditions, he didn't admit it.

"We'll take any conditions, whatever weather, we get," said the Scot, who is attempting to mastermind B and I regaining a trophy that was lost by the narrowest of margins in Chicago two years ago. For the previous three matches - at Nairn in 1999, Sea Island in 2001 and Ganton in 2003 - B and I enjoyed an unprecedented run of wins and enter this match, only the second to be played in Ireland, as favourites.

You've got to figure that the B and I's familiarity with the links will be a help.

As Nigel Edwards, playing in his fourth Walker Cup and the wise old head on the home team, put it, "this is a seriously difficult golf course. I think it is probably the toughest golf course we play. There's no let-up anywhere. Whoever wins the Walker Cup will have played very well."

Not surprisingly, Dalgleish has opted to play McIlroy and Caldwell together in the foursomes.

The pair were unbeaten in three foursomes appearances in last year's Home Internationals and won two from three matches in foursomes in winning the European Team Championship in July.

By chance, Marucci has pitted his top two players, Knost and Johnson, against them.

It should be an intriguing match; but just one of 12 today - four foursomes and eight singles - before the process is repeated all over again tomorrow.

(Brit and Ireland names first):

Foursomes:

08.30 - Lloyd Saltman and Rhys Davies v Billy Horschel and Rickie Fowler.

08.45 - Rory McIlroy and Jonny Caldwell v Colt Knost and Dustin Johnson.

09.00 - John Parry and David Horsey v Trip Kuehne and Kyle Stanley.

09.15 - Jamie Moul and Danny Willett v Webb Simpson and Jonathan Moore.

Singles:

13.15 - McIlroy v Horschel.

13.25 - Saltman v Fowler.

13.35 - Davies v Johnson.

13.45 - Willett v Knost.

14.00 - Llewellyn Matthews v Jamie Lovemark.

14.10 - Nigel Edwards v Stanley.

14.20 - Moul v Chris Kirk.

14.30 - Horsey v Simpson.