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Five things to know heading into 47th Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool

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The 47th Walker Cup is set for Saturday and Sunday at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England.

Each day of competition will consist of two sessions – four foursomes matches in the morning and singles matches in the afternoon, eight on Saturday and 10 on Sunday. In total, there are 24 points up for grabs.

The 10-man U.S. team is captained by Nathaniel Crosby while Craig Watson will lead the GB&I squad. The U.S. leads the all-time series, 36-9-1, including a 19-7 victory two years ago in Los Angeles.

Here are five things to know heading into the weekend at Royal Liverpool:

1. Home-course advantage

For many years, the Walker Cup was a one-sided affair with the U.S. winning 30 of the first 34 editions (and tying one). But starting with GB&I’s victory at Royal Porthcawl in 1995, the home team has won 10 of the last 12 matches.

The only teams to win on the road during that span: the 2001 GB&I squad at Ocean Forest and the 2007 U.S. team at Royal Country Down.

In 2017, the U.S. routed the opposition by 12 points at Los Angeles Country Club, two years after GB&I won by seven points at Royal Lytham. Four of the past five Walker Cups have been won by the home team and by at least seven points.

2007 Walker Cup
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2. The last time the U.S. won on the road

The 2007 U.S. team is considered by many to be the “Dream Team” of American Walker Cup teams.

That squad consisted of two future major champions (Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson), four more players who have gone on to win multiple PGA Tour event (Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel, Chris Kirk and Kyle Stanley) and two more guys who have earned Tour cards (Jamie Lovemark and Colt Knost). Also, Trip Kuehne was a lifelong amateur and three-time Walker Cup team member, and he won the U.S. Mid-Amateur that year.

“I know there have been a lot of great teams, but that team right there was really special when you see that everyone has played out on Tour except for two guys,” Horschel said. “… It was a talented, talented squad.”

The final member of the that team, Oklahoma State’s Jonathan Moore, was the only player who turned pro and failed to make it the Tour. But he also was the hero that Sunday at Royal County Down.

With Rory McIlroy and his GB&I teammates erasing a 10-6 deficit by winning four of the first five matches in the final singles session, the U.S. needed to win two of the last three matches. Lovemark dispatched Jamie Moul on the 15th hole while Simpson was locked in an anchor-match battle with David Horsey.

With most of his teammates following him, Moore stuck a 5-iron from 235 yards to 3 feet at the par-5 18th to set up a winning putt. After his eagle roll dropped to give the Americans the one-point win, Moore flipped his putter into the air before being mobbed by the rest of the U.S. team.

“I wouldn't wish that putt upon my worst enemy, really,” Moore said later in the post-match presser. “It's either you're going to be the man or you're going to be the goat.”

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3. Royal Liverpool’s significance

The first Walker Cup was contested in 1922 at National Golf Links of America, but Royal Liverpool can be credited with laying the foundation for what is now the premier team event in amateur golf.

Commonly referred to as the “spiritual home” of the Walker Cup, Royal Liverpool played host to an unofficial match between amateurs from the U.S. and Great Britain and Ireland on May 21, 1921, a day before The Amateur. Initially, several countries were expected to compete for the Walker Cup, named after USGA president George Herbert Walker, but only two were able to compete.

The American team, captained by 1910 U.S. Amateur champion William C. Fownes, was led by Bobby Jones, Charles Evans and Francis Ouimet. Their GB&I counterparts included Tommy Armour and Cyril Tolley.

While the visitors had some trouble with a firm and fast layout in Hoylake, the Americans still prevailed, 9-3.

“It was obvious that certain members of the British team were suffering from an acute attack of nerves,” said Royal Liverpool historian Guy Farrar. “America did not play unbeatable stuff. … We obligingly dug our own graves.”

A year later, the first official Walker Cup was played, followed by matches in 1923 and ’24. After that, the competition became a biennial event.

Since that unofficial match, though, Royal Liverpool has played host just once before its return this year. In 1983, the U.S. beat GB&I, 13.5-10.5. This year’s U.S. captain, Nathaniel Crosby, played on that victorious squad, playing in half of the sessions and going 1-1.

4. Comeback trend – or lack thereof

With just 26 points up for grabs in only four sessions, it is important for teams to earn points early. Those first two sessions are even more important considering the lack of comebacks in recent Walker Cup history.

In the past seven Walker Cups, no team has trailed after the first day and gone on to win. In 2007, the teams were tied after two sessions before the U.S. swept the second foursomes session and went on to win by a single point.

Two years later, the final singles sessions was expanded to 10 matches, increasing the number of points available from 24 to 26.

Here is a quick look at the past seven Walker Cups and where things finished after both days:

  • 2017: U.S. led 8-4 after Day 1, won 19-7
  • 2015: GB&I led 7-5, won 16.5-9.5
  • 2013: U.S. led 8-4, won 17-9
  • 2011: GB&I led 7-5, won 14-12
  • 2009: U.S. led 8-4, won 16.5-9.5
  • 2007: Tied 6-6, U.S. won 12.5-11.5
  • 2005: U.S. led 6.5-5.5, won 12.5-11.5

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5. How this year’s teams stack up

While the GB&I team has the home-course advantage, the U.S. squad has the edge on paper.

Half of the American side is ranked in the top 10 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking –Cole Hammer (1), Akshay Bhatia (5), Stewart Hagestad (7), Brandon Wu (8) and Steven Fisk (10). (Hagestad is also the only player on either team to have past Walker Cup experience. He competed in 2017.)

Meanwhile, the only GB&I player ranked in the top 10 is England’s Conor Gough (3). In fact, GB&I has just three players in the top 25 – Gough, Scotland’s Euan Walker (13) and Ireland’s Conor Purcell (25).

The U.S. has nine players ranked No. 21 or better. The only player ranked worse is No. 41 Andy Ogletree, who recently won the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst.

Three GB&I players are ranked outside the top 50 – Ireland’s James Sugrue (53) and Englishmen Harry Hall (80) and Thomas Plumb (157).