683 weeks as World Number 1, with 15 Majors and the most famous name in modern day golf, Tiger Woods would go on to transcend the sport with little or nobody able to stop him – but this was the 1995 Walker Cup.
A sprightly, nineteen-year-old Tiger arrived in Royal Porthcawl as the golden gem in a US team looking to continue their dominance and win the Walker Cup for the eleventh time in twelve editions.
The 1995 Walker Cup appeared to be about this young Californian who was taking the game by storm Stateside, and fans flocked to South Wales to catch a glimpse of the seemingly generational talent.
Standing in Tiger’s way was one of the best Great Britain and Ireland teams there has ever been with three players going on to amass a combined nine Ryder Cup appearances for Europe, including Pádraig Harrington who was playing in his third Walker Cup, would win three major titles and would account for six of those nine European Ryder Cup appearances.
Woods had already played in his first PGA Tour event when he was just 16. He had won six Junior World Golf Championships and three U.S. Junior Amateurs, along with two U.S. Amateur titles – he would win three in a row in 1996.
But in the meantime, a young Milltown golfer had his chance and took it – Jody Fanagan humbled the great Woods and beat him. An achievement which became greater with each passing year as Woods dominated professional golf.
In fact, it was this fantastic win in September 1995 that kickstarted Great Britain and Ireland’s only period of dominance in the contest to date, with Fanagan and Harrington forming one of the great foursomes partnerships in the contest’s history as they collected two points from two, including taking down Woods 2&1 in the day two foursomes.
Remarkably, despite winning all three of his matches, Fanagan was a late call up to the GB&I team with Welsh captain Clive Brown citing his familiarity with Harrington as a crucial factor and so it proved.
“1995 feels like a lifetime ago. Pádraig was my partner against Tiger, and we had played together for Leinster and for GB&I against Europe a couple of times, so we played about 40 matches together as foursomes partners,” explained the former Irish Senior Open champion.
“I was one of the last two to be picked. Eight had been selected, then myself and Gary Wolstenholme were the last to be brought on. I’d say I wouldn’t have been picked only for me and Pádraig were good foursomes partners. I was actually playing quite well at the time; I had just won the South so having a pair who had played well together and were successful would have helped.
“Harrington had played two Walker Cups at that point so for me it was good to play with someone who had all that experience and I think he was comfortable playing with me as a foursomes partner so that was a win-win.”
The then South of Ireland champion, who coincidentally beat Harrington in the decider, sat out the afternoon singles before the draw was made for day two that evening and out of the hat came his name and Tiger’s to huge fanfare for the travelling Irish.
“We won 4&3 the first day and GB&I were 7-5 up after play so then the draw for the second day came out and we drew Tiger and John Harris,” Fanagan remembers. “A big Irish contingent had travelled over and they were more excited than we were to be playing Tiger.
“Tiger was their best player, and the hype was big – not as big in years to come but he had won two US Amateurs, three Junior US Ams so he was their main man. He caused a stir in the British Open earlier that year so everyone had heard of him. Tiger was in a different category regarding his potential, at only nineteen everyone had heard of him.
“You could see in the practice ground, only snippets mind, but he had some serious game. He just hit it in the air, the distances, it was very impressive. He looked technically very good, really good. But you just never know in golf, who is going to make it or not.
“He had all the attributes. It was exciting that he was there, good for the tournament and the Walker Cup. It was live on TV, BBC had it on the Saturday and Sunday. It was all big stuff.
“When we played Tiger it was a really wet day. They didn’t love it and they didn’t play brilliantly.
“We played very solid in the rain. Tiger had just won the US Amateur so he was a serious player. He hit the ball like no one else did really.
“You could see his talent was extraordinary. But we played well, and we won 2&1 in the end. It was a tight game and we loved it; we had a great time.
“I haven’t met Tiger since, but Padraig would say he mentioned me over the years, asking “is that fella still an undertaker?”
Fanagan carried the momentum from his sensational win into the afternoon singles, beating Jerry Courville Jr 3&2 as GB&I won the opening four singles matches, led out by 1995 amateur champion and star player at the time, Gordon Sherry as they eased to a 14-10 win and just a fourth Walker Cup win.
“Tiger has gone on to phenomenal things, just incredible, a once in a generation player. But looking back at our team we had one of the great Walker Cup teams, three Ryder Cuppers, David Howell, Pádraig and Stephen Gallacher then we had Mark Foster, twenty years on tour, Gary Wolstenholme had a great career, so that was an extraordinary team and we were very strong compared to America.”