Walker Cup amateurs who did a professional job

#SJA2011: Last year’s SJA Team of the Year was golf’s Ryder Cup winners. In 2011, the candidates for the honour include the European women who won the Solheim Cup and, as former SJA chairman PAUL TROW suggests here, a squad of Walker Cup amateurs who pulled off one of the biggest upsets seen in the game

Rough times: Even for the ultimately victorious Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team, including Tom Lewis, Royal Aberdeen presented some tough challenges

Patrick Cantlay, Harry English, Russell Henley, Kelly Kraft, Patrick Rodgers, Jordon Spieth, Peter Uilhein – remember the names. The odds are at least four of them will win one of golf’s major championships over the next decade and a half.

Yes, they are all Americans – so what’s so special about them? Well, for starters, they were all members of the strongest US Walker Cup that I believe has ever been assembled. Better even than the 1975 team that included Curtis Strange, Jerry Pate, Craig Stadler (all subsequent major winners) and Jay Haas.

And what happened to this gilded bunch when they flew over to Scotland in September for this year’s match, the 43rd in a biennial series going back to the mid-1920s? They got blown away, literally and metaphorically by what I believe to be the best British sporting team performance of 2011.

Jack Senior is another Walker Cup winner who has enjoyed an outstanding 2011

All their fine performances when rubbing shoulders with their elders and supposed betters on America’s professional tours during the 2011 season counted for nothing as autumn weather at its vilest conspired with the classic, potentially lethal Royal Aberdeen links to release a serpent, the like of which they’d never experienced before.

Spearheaded by 20-year-old Tom Lewis, winner of the silver medal as leading Amateur at the Open Championship at Sandwich in July, the 10-strong Great Britain & Ireland team not only punched above their weight – they proved that when it comes to playing golf in horizontal rain, the punchers will always see off the swingers.

And so it was as Lewis and his cohorts – including Jack Senior, who had reached the semi-finals of the US Amateur Championship in temperatures not far short of 100 degrees Fahrenheit only a fortnight earlier – dished out a salutary lesson to their American counterparts on how to get the ball round, often barely quail-high above the ground, in the most unpleasant and alien of conditions.

The result was a 14-12 victory that would have earned pugnacious punters much gold at the expense of bookies Stateside (and, in all probability, over here as well). The fact that Lewis, now a strong candidate for the SJA’s international newcomer award following his astonishing victory in the Portuguese Masters in only his third start as a professional, contributed just one and a half points out of a possible four to the cause is testimony to the whole team’s collective fortitude and resilience.

Most members of the GB&I team have since joined Lewis in the paid ranks, including Senior, Ireland’s Paul Cutler and long-hitting Scot James Byrne. Lewis is clearly destined to be a superstar of Rory McIlroy proportions, but my guess is quite a few of the Walker Cup “class of 2011” will soon be making their mark on the European Tour.

Watch this space, and while doing so please reflect on whether there has been a more heroic sporting performance by any team from these shores over the past 12 months.

SJA WORKING LUNCH: Baroness Grey-Thompson on the 2012 London Paralympics. Thu Nov 17: click here for booking details