Great Britain and Ireland will attempt to regain the Walker Cup trophy when they face off against the USA at the 47th Match on Saturday and Sunday, September 7&8 at Royal Liverpool (Hoylake).
26-year old Dundalk amateur, Caolan Rafferty will be the oldest member of team GB&I having travelled over from Ireland alongside Portmarnock’s Conor Purcell and Amateur Champion, James Sugrue from Mallow to get reacquainted with the Liverpool links.
Rafferty, Purcell and Sugrue joined GB&I’s 10-strong team bidding to win back the famous trophy after the USA secured a 19-7 victory in the 2017 match at Los Angeles Country Club and as expected, no stone’s been left unturned in preparation to ensure that home advantage counts come the weekend at the pinnacle contest in amateur golf.
“Preparation is kind of up to the player to a point,” Rafferty revealed on Monday night. “We played 18 this morning in singles and then played 8 as foursomes this afternoon to try to figure out some partnerships. It’s nice being based at Hoylake for the week but we’re heading to Birkdale on Wednesday to play there which will be great too.
“It’s not our first time here and we’ve been lucky enough to get a real feel for Hoylake and it’s just about making the most of our time here now.”
What team GB&I will have in abundance is links golf experience as the United States competitors arrive comparatively undercooked in this sphere. Home advantage has favoured the winners in recent matches with GB&I winning the biennial encounter in 2011 at Royal Aberdeen and 2015 at Royal Lytham & St Annes, with West of Ireland Championship Rafferty hoping that pattern continues.
“I enjoy the course,” Rafferty said. “It’s narrow, it’s tight. It’s not that it’s massively long but at the same time, if you’re in the rough, it will play extremely long.
“It’s flat like Portmarnock but then tight like The Island but it’s familiar. The rough has shot up since we were there first. It’s really well defined and I feel – everyone says this every year, ‘it will help us, it will help us’ – but I do feel like it will this year because of how narrow it is.”
With the wind expected to blow on Saturday and the fairways tight, Rafferty’s compatriot Sugrue is hoping the weather plays its part in ensuring a hostile welcome for their US counterparts.
“I think we have a little bit of an advantage on the Americans. We’ve had a number of trips here now and obviously we all play links courses every week while it will be new to them. Hopefully it blows a bit and we’ll get a bit of English weather so we can put them back in their box!” Smiled Sugrue.
It’s that type of jovial atmosphere that might just prove crucial as GB&I look to topple the USA. Almost as important as the golf itself is the environment created off the course; capable of producing a feel-good factor to lift performances on competition days.
In terms of GB&I’s preparation, Rafferty believes Captain, Craig Watson has got that balance just right.
“All the lads are getting on really well,” he added. “There’s plenty of banter being thrown about which makes it a really fun environment.
“We know how important this week is but it’s nice to be able to have fun and I think it’s helping to make everyone at ease a little. We’re all just excited to try win that trophy back come Sunday.”
The GB&I team: (side bar)
Alex Fitzpatrick, Hallamshire, 20
Conor Gough, Stoke Park, 16
Harry Hall, West Cornwall, 22
Thomas Plumb, Yeovil, 20
Conor Purcell, Portmarnock, 22
Caolan Rafferty, Dundalk, 26
Sandy Scott, Nairn, 21
Tom Sloman, Taunton & Pickeridge, 23
James Sugrue, Mallow, 22
Euan Walker, Kilmarnock (Barassie), 23
Benjamin Schmidt, Rotherham, 17
Benjamin Jones, Northamptonshire County, 20
Craig Watson, East Renfrewshire, 53