Horsfield absence a blow for GB&I

Sam Horsfield watches his second shot on the 14th hole during the first round of match play of the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields Country Club in Olympia Fields, Ill. on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015.  Picture courtesy USGA/John Mummert

The mystery surrounding Sam Horsfield’s decision to stand down from the GB&I Walker Cup team for “personal reasons” — “very personal reasons” according to his University of Florida college coach of a few days, JC Deacon — is not only bad news for GB&I, it also creates an unhelpful void.

Given the scant information provided, speculation is rife about what “really” forced a player who moved to Florida when he was five, to turn down the chance to play in one of golf's most iconic events

If he plays for the University of Florida's Gators in the opening college fixture of the season — the decidedly unglamorous sounding Carpet Capital Invitational hosted by Georgia Tech in Dalton, Georgia — over the Walker Cup weekend, it won’t help.

But it still doesn’t mean he hasn’t got “personal reasons” for stepping down.

Even GB&I skipper Nigel Edwards — the man who stuck his neck out for player many consider too Americanised and distanced from golf on this side of the pond — told Golfweek’s Alastair Tait that he didn’t press for details when told Horsfield had pulled out less than a week after getting picked.

Whether family related or not, no details have been forthcoming.

“As it says, Brian,” Edwards texted me shortly after the press release was sent out on Monday, “personal reasons.” 

His replacement, Ewen Ferguson, was unlucky not to make the original 10 on merit but still, not having one of the world’s Top 30 players cannot good news for GB&I.

As always, the British and Irish will need all the help they can get on a course that even they struggle to tame during the Lytham Trophy.

If Edwards' side wins at Royal Lytham and St Annes he will have won two of his three matches for the best record of any GB&I non-playing captain ever and the best since Peter McEvoy won back to back in 1999 and 2001.

And while there have been renewed calls to either pick the team off the world rankings or put some sort of Order of Merit with picks system in place for future teams, that would only thrown previous selections into an unfavourable light.
While the US selection system is always criticised for its lack of transparency and some dubious decisions by the USGA in the not so distant past, GB&I's committee system also comes in for constant flack.

Yet picking Horsfield, even he if didn’t set foot on European soil this year and had never played links golf or foursomes with any of his team mates, was still the right thing to do.

Could the R&A have handled  things better when it came to managing contact with the Orlando based son of an English glazier? Probably.

He didn’t play in the British Amateur or the St Andrews Links Trophy, as planned, because he qualified for the US Open at Chambers Bay.

But those who wondered why he didn’t turn up at Royal Lytham to meet Paul Dunne and the rest of the squad at get together the Tuesday after The Open probably aren’t aware that he wasn’t asked to attend until the week before.

“Sam was leaving for the Southern Amateur on Saturday and we got an email Wednesday afternoon asking if he could be a Lytham next Tuesday,” his father explained at the US Amateur. "The Wednesday before.

“The R&A said last year they would be in touch shortly at the end of January and we heard nothing until the Wednesday afternoon of Open week. We thought they were kind of ignoring Sam and weren’t sure what was happening. But Nigel came out and watched him play on both days.”

Edwards watched Horsfield’s two strokeplay qualifying rounds for the US Amateur, where he and Dunne were the only GB&I entrants to make the matchplay stages. As he said at the time, "good players are good players" no matter where they live.