Mixed emotions for Irish trio as USA retains Walker Cup

Mixed emotions for Irish trio as USA retains Walker Cup
USA Team poses with the trophy following their win in the 2019 Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool. Front row left to right, Alex Smalley, Andy Ogletree, Akshay Bhatia, Stewart Hagestad. Back row left to right, Brandon Wu, John Pak, John Augenstein, Captain Nathaniel Crosby, Alex Smalley, Isaiah Salinda, Cole Hammer. © USGA/Chris Keane

USA Team poses with the trophy following their win in the 2019 Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool. Front row left to right, Alex Smalley, Andy Ogletree, Akshay Bhatia, Stewart Hagestad. Back row left to right, Brandon Wu, John Pak, John Augenstein, Captain Nathaniel Crosby, Alex Smalley, Isaiah Salinda, Cole Hammer. © USGA/Chris Keane

Ireland's trio of Walker Cup stars left Royal Liverpool with mixed emotions as the United Stages ran riot in the singles and romped to a 15.5-10.5 victory.

It was a memorable week for them in terms of the stage and the atmosphere but the result left them wondering what they had to do to make it even more special.

Time will tell if this American team will produce as many stars as the last one to win on away soil at Royal County Down in 2007.

On that occasion, a GB&I side that featured future four-time major winner Rory McIlroy and Masters champion Danny Willett fell by just one point to the likes of Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel, and major champions Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson.

"There are a few on that team that we will see again on the PGA Tour," Portmarnock's Conor Purcell said after losing 6&5 to world number one Cole Hammer.

"Guys like Brandon Wu, Akshay [Bhatia], Cole, Isaiah Salinda, they are strong players and we will look back in a few years and there will be a lot to be proud of."

GB&I led 7-5 overnight but they lost the foursomes 2.5-1.5 with Purcell and Alex Fitzpatrick falling 2&1 to Wu and Alex Smalley despite holding a two-up lead after seven holes and a one-hole advantage with five to play.

Still leading 8.5-7.5 at lunch, Craig Watson's charges needed five points from the ten singles to win back the trophy but could only win two.

Nairn's Sandy Scott — the top scorer for GB&I with 3.5 out of four — beat Wu 4&3 and Tom Sloman sent Steven Fisk to his third defeat from three in the anchor singles by two holes.

But the rest of the board was a sea of red after the Americans got off to a hot start, winning the first hole in six of the ten matches.

Purcell bogeyed the first to go one down and then watched Hammer chip in for a winning birdie at the second to go two up. The Dubliner made just one birdie at the par-five third but it was only good enough for a half and Hammer birdied the ninth and 10th to go four up before closing out the match with pars at the 12th and 13th.

After defeats for Fitzpatrick to Salinda and Euan Walker to John Pak, Dundalk's Caolan Rafferty made five birdies, holing a chip and a bunker shot along the way and even conjuring a miraculous par save from brambles at the 10th against Alex Smalley.

He even birdied the 16th to get back to one down but lost 2&1 when Smalley made an eight-footer for par at the 17th and he missed from half that distance.

"I did everything you need to do to dog out a tough match," Rafferty lamented. "But in a typical matchplay moment on 17, he holed and I missed.

"It was still a great week. The captain said that win or lose, it's the best weekend of your life and he was dead right.

"I'd love to come back and play again if my golf allowed it. We will never say never. If I can give the selectors a headache and I am still there in two years, I'd love to absolutely.

"It was lovely to win my singles yesterday, and today, defeat felt twice as bad, but the supporters pick you up, and you move on and get ready for next week."

Mallow's James Sugrue was suffering all week from a sore back, and while he sat out the foursomes, he could not win either of his singles and looked back on his week with mixed emotions.

He lost in cruel fashion on Saturday when Pak finished par-birdie to turn a one-hole deficit into a one-hole win And there was more pain for him yesterday as he faced the left-handed wonder kid Bhatia.

The American made just one bogey in a 4&2 win over the Amateur champion, giving little away as he claimed four of the first five holes.

"It was a good week and I enjoyed it, but I didn't play great all week," Sugrue said. "I actually didn't play that badly in my two singles matches. I just didn't feel right all week.

"I got it around decently enough but an okay game isn't going to get it done. I just wasn't comfortable with my game and I was pretty sore yesterday and a couple of times today too.

"But Akshay is a very good player - as good as they get. I enjoyed it all. It was just a pity about the result."

Conditions were perfect for golf with brilliant sunshine and a zephyr breeze rewarding good ball-striking and in that department, the Americans excelled.

Former Irish international Pádraig Hogan, who was one of the R&A selectors for the matches, felt the was the difference between the sides.

"Their ball control was far better than ours,” Hogan said. "They hit a lot more fairways and got themselves in the right positions and we struggled off the tee today.

"It is very hard to attack flags and if you build up a lead as an American, you just keep hitting greens.

"They were out of the blocks very quickly and while I thought we might turn a few of those matches around we were playing catch up from a very early stage.

"But they have some fantastic players and we will see them on tour very shortly."

Home captain Watson added: "The lads will probably learn a lot from this disappointment today. It was a tough course the way it was set up.

"If you were ahead early pars were enough to stay ahead because birdies were going to be few and far between and the American boys did that very well."

Winning US captain Nathaniel Crosby said: "Their talent came to the surface I could not be more excited for them and me; I've not won anything in about 38 years!"

47th Walker Cup, Royal Liverpool, Hoylake

Final score, USA 15.5, Great Britain & Ireland 10.5

Day 1 - Overall: USA 5, Great Britain & Ireland 7

Foursomes:

USA 2, GB&I 2 (USA names first)

  1. John Augenstein Andy Ogletree lost to Alex Fitzpatrick & Conor Purcell 2&1

  2. John Pak & Isiah Salinda bt Sandy Scott and Euan Walker, Euan 2&1

  3. Stewart Hagestad & Aksay Bhatia lost to Harry Hall and Conor Gough 2&1

  4. Brandon Wu & Alex Smalley bt Tom Sloman & Thomas Plumb 2& 1.

Singles (USA 3, Great Britain & Ireland 5)

  1. Cole Hammer lost to Alex Fitzpatrick 2 holes;

  2. Steven Fisk lost to Euan Walker 2 holes;

  3. Andy Ogletree lost to Sandy Scott 1 hole;

  4. John Augenstein beat Conor Purcell 2&1

  5. John Pak bt James Sugrue 1 hole;

  6. Isaiah Salinda lost to Conor Gough 2 holes;

  7. Alex Smalley lost to Caolan Rafferty 2&1;

  8. Brandon Wu bt Tom Sloman 4&2.

Day 2, Sunday, 8 September

Foursomes (USA names first) (USA 2.5, GB&I 1.5)

  1. Brandon Wu & Alex Smalley bt Alex Fitzpatrick (Eng) & Conor Purcell (Irl) 2&1;

  2. John Augenstein & Andy Ogletree halved with Sandy Scott (Sco) & Euan Walker (Sco);

  3. Stewart Hagestad & Akshay Bhatia bt Harry Hall (Eng) & Conor Gough (Eng) 3&2;

  4. Cole Hammer & Steven Fisk lost to Tom Sloman (Eng) & Thomas Plumb (Eng) 5&3

Overall (USA 7.5, GB&I 8.5)

Singles (USA names first) USA 8, GB&I 2

  1. Salinda bt Fitzpatrick 2 holes;

  2. Pak bt Walker 2&1;

  3. Wu lost to Scott 4&3;

  4. Smalley bt Rafferty 2&1;

  5. Hagestad bt Hall 5&3;

  6. Ogletree bt Gough 2&1;

  7. Augenstein bt Plumb 4&3;

  8. Bhatia bt Sugrue 4&2;

  9. Hammer bt Purcell 6&5;

  10. Fisk lost to Sloman 2 holes.