JUNO BEACH, Fla. – If Walker Cup points were decided on accolades and rankings, the matches at Seminole Golf Club would have been over before they started (easier, in a way, for the unlucky players and their captains who spent the week battling a stomach ailment). The Americans are on home soil, in an earlier, more favorable spot on the calendar. The world rankings numbers next to their names are much better (though players on both sides have said they pay no attention to that).
And yet Great Britain & Ireland only trails by a point, 7.5 to 8.5, with 10 Sunday singles matches lined up for Sunday afternoon.
As far as visual aids, consider John Murphy’s lasered 5-iron into the 18th green on Sunday morning a pretty good one. Tied with Americans Pierceson Coody and John Pak in the first foursomes match of the morning, Murphy and his partner Mark Power – the Irishmen on the team – needed to do something heroic to claim a point.
That’s when Murphy roped his long-iron approach to an elevated green, holding the surface while Coody’s shot from a nearly identical distance trickled off the right side, down a hill and into the driving range.
GB&I won the point and the match.
“The 5-iron he hit into the last, hard to describe how good that shot was,” Power said.
Added Murphy, “There has to be a little luck involved. I could barely feel my hands. It was certainly nice, I just said to myself just to stick to the process. Hit that shot a million times before so I just said, I can do it again.”
An extra layer to that magic Murphy shot was the strong left-to-right sea breeze blowing over Seminole from the nearby Atlantic. Asked if he breathed a sigh of relief when he felt the windy conditions on Sunday morning, Wilson indicated a South Florida wind is not the same as the stiff (cold) breezes back home.
“With the wind the way it is, I think it’s a little bit what we played in practice,” he said. “The wind reacts a bit different here than it does back home, with it being a good bit warmer.”
Wilson, understandably, would not tip his hand after the morning session to the level of aggression GB&I might bring to Sunday singles given the close score. Still, in the second match of the day, Barclay Brown pulled drive on the par-4 16th tee, a dogleg right with sand up the right side and guarding the green, and took a direct shot. He figures with the back tees moved up slightly, it was about a 330-yard carry to clear the farthest bunker.
Ricky Castillo, who was on the tee for the Americans in that group, followed suit, and actually dropped his a few feet right of Brown’s shot.
“The play was to go a little bit left of that, more where the Americans were,” he said. “Just a little bit of downwind, we’d finally got up, we just wanted to stay aggressive.”
The U.S. ended up with a birdie, won the hole, and were on their way to winning that match.
Asked again and again about their chances this week, GB&I has been humble but firm. There is no indication they feel outmatched and through three sessions, there is no indication that they are. Even Murphy was quick to write off the wind as an advantage, even if it does come into play for strategy.
“I think good golf wins in the wind regardless of who’s playing,” he said. “Good ballstriking will come to fruition, and I think it did.”
There’s one more detail that makes GB&I’s position through three sessions of this Walker Cup that much more impressive. Only Alex Fitzpatrick returned from the 2019 GB&I team that lost to the U.S. at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England. At No. 12 in the WAGR, he’s the top-ranked player on the team, and one with experience around Seminole thanks to a family friend with a club membership.
But Fitzpatrick, despite heroic golf in the previous three sessions, hasn’t put a point on the board yet.
“I think everybody is surprised by that, even Alex himself,” Wilson said. “Hopefully the law of averages will kick in this afternoon.”
GB&I needs to score six of 10 available afternoon points in order to win on foreign soil for the first time since 2001. What seemed a very tall task for the visitors is very much within reach.
“The messaging has been the same all week, and it’s starting to kind of pay dividends,” Wilson said. “I think the guys are doing all the right things, and progressively we’re getting a little bit better each session in the way we’re handling the golf course because we’re getting used the conditions and things, so it should make for an interesting session this afternoon.”