Walker Cup 2019: Players fight nerves as opening foursomes session ends in 2-2 tie

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HOYLAKE, England — The first session of matches in the 47th Walker Cup could never be described as a waste of time in unexpectedly benign conditions enjoyed by players and spectators alike at Royal Liverpool. But no statements were made, either, during Day 1’s morning foursomes, the score settling at 2-2 with all four matches finishing on the penultimate green.

In the top match, the Anglo-Irish combination of Alex Fitzpatrick and Conor Purcell got Great Britain & Ireland off to an ideal start with a 2-and-1 victory over U.S. Amateur finalists Andy Ogletree (whose approach to the first green flew out-of-bounds in an ignominious start) and John Augenstein. Three-up as early as the sixth tee, the home pair were never less than 2 up the rest of the match.

“It’s always nice to get the first point on the board as it gives the lads behind a boost to see a blue number up there,” said Fitzpatrick, whose older brother, European Tour player Matt, was in the gallery. “Our start really helped us, and the crowd got behind us early. We bounced off each other really well.”

It wasn’t long before the scores were level again. All-square through 10 holes, Americans John Pak and Isaiah Salinda claimed three straight holes to take a decisive lead against the Scottish pair of Sandy Scott and Euan Walker. All of which was a far cry from Pak’s opening tee shot. Let’s just say he caught it a little heavy.

“I was a bit nervous, having never played in front of that many people before,” said Pak, an All-American at Florida State. “But we settled down a bit after that. The last five holes are the most important in any match. Which is why we wanted Isaiah to go first on the two par 5s, 14 and 16. He gets it out there a bit longer than I do.”

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The bottom two matches followed a similar pattern. GB&I’s Harry Hall and Conor Gough never trailed against Stewart Hagestad and Akshay Bhatia, winning 2 and 1. Similarly, the American pair of Brandon Wu and Alex Smalley were never behind en route to their 2-and-1 victory over Tom Sloman and Thomas Plumb.

As for the afternoon singles, the thoughts and tactics of the two captains were, as ever, provoking much speculation and conjecture. And each, at least in one respect, followed the same game plan.

GB&I skipper Craig Watson came through on his promise to put all 10 players on the course at least once on the opening day. British Amateur champion James Sugrue and Tom Sloman were both omitted from the morning foursomes, but both were included in the afternoon singles lineup, Plumb and Hall dropping out.

For the Americans, skipper Nathaniel Crosby followed his counterpart’s lead by giving every member of his side a first-day start. The losing morning partnership of Hagestad and Bhatia were benched for afternoon singles, replaced by World No. 1 Cole Hammer and Steven Fisk. The newcomers will play first and second in the singles order.

The first afternoon match—Hammer versus Fitzgerald—will give the 20-year-old Englishman an opportunity for a bit of revenge. In the quarterfinal of the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, Hammer prevailed by 2 and 1.


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