Match play returns to spotlight with three high-profile events in September

nigel edwards
Getty Images
Nigel Edwards, the captain of the Britain-Ireland team in this weekend's Walker Cup, reflected on the match's history as this year's event prepared to tee off.
By
Mark Garrod
PA Sport

Series: Other Tour

Variety is the spice of life, they say, and for golf fans it comes this month in Aberdeen, Paris and County Meath.

After more than three months of 72-hole stroke play tournaments dominating the landscape -- some a lot more exciting than others, it has to be said -- the head-to-head combat that is match play is back.

2011 WALKER CUP

The U.S. Walker Cup team is going for its fourth win a row after breaking a three-match winning streak by Britain-Ireland.

First up this weekend, the Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen. Britain and Ireland's amateurs are set to take on an American line-up that on paper -- and almost certainly in fact, too -- looks one of the strongest sides ever assembled for the match.

After suffering three successive defeats for the first time in the competition's history, the United States has struck back with three in a row of its own, and it will be a huge upset if the Americans don’t make it four in a row on Sunday.

The one British name that will be familiar to all who follow the sport is Tom Lewis, the 20-year-old from Welwyn Garden City whose brilliant 65 at Royal St. George’s in July not only gave him a share of the British Open lead, but was the lowest round ever by an amateur in the event.

Whatever the temptations of cashing in straightaway on his sudden fame, Lewis has delayed the switch until after this weekend.

"If it wasn't for the Walker Cup this year, I would have been turning pro," he said. "So obviously it shows that Walker Cup means a lot. I won't forget the first day what I did, but I still have to work on what I'm weak at. And that is mentally as well as my short game."

Lewis is currently eighth in the amateur world rankings and there is another English player ahead of him at fifth -- not Jack Senior despite reaching the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur two weeks ago, but Andrew Sullivan.

The Americans, though, have five of the leading six.

From the top, Patrick Cantlay, who shot 60 on the PGA Tour in June; Jordan Spieth, a two-time U.S. Junior champion headed to the University of Texas; fellow teenager Patrick Rodgers; long-time top-ranked amateur Peter Uihlein of Oklahoma State, who scored a maximum four points in the 2009 Walker Cup; and Harris English, who like teammate Russell Henley has already won on the Nationwide Tour.

The Americans will also be favorites for the Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle northwest of Dublin on Sept. 23-25 -- and will also be going for a fourth successive triumph.

In terms of world positions, Europe has the highest-ranked player in Norwegian Suzann Pettersen, who is currently second to Taiwan's Yani Tseng.

But before you come to the next European -- Sweden’s Maria Hjorth in 19th -- there are seven Americans. In order, they are Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel and Angela Stanford.

Matches are not won by world rankings, though, and Europe Captain Alison Nicholas, given a second run at the captaincy after the 16-12 defeat two years ago, said: "I am confident in my team and I believe that we will do very well."

Interestingly, the contest will see Annika Sorenstam take an active role again as one of Nicholas' assistants three years after her retirement from playing.

It will also see two records broken. Laura Davies, ever-present since the series started in 1990, moves ahead of Nick Faldo's Ryder Cup mark by winning a 12th berth and at 51 American Juli Inkster becomes the oldest player ever in either event.

As for the Paris tournament, that is next week's Vivendi Seve Trophy match pitting a Britain and Ireland team again under Paul McGinley's captaincy against Continental Europe led this time by Jean Van de Velde.

It does not have the intensity of the Ryder Cup, but it has already had its memorable moments since it was introduced in 2000 to mark the contribution made to European golf by the now-late Seve Ballesteros.

For the first three matches, Ballesteros and Colin Montgomerie were playing captains and always played each other on the final day.

When they first met at Sunningdale, Ballesteros had not won a title in five years and Montgomerie had won the last seven European Tour Order of Merits. But the Scot lost their clash and the same happened at Druids Glen two years later when the Spaniard was ranked 1,240th in the world.

"I am pretty talented, but nothing like this guy here," Montgomerie said after watching a display in which Ballesteros hot only one fairway all day, but single-putted 10 times.

His drive down the third hit a tree no more than 50 yards away and at the 14th he was in a bush so close that when he chipped out he was on the ladies' tee. Yet he won.

Their third meeting was at El Saler near Valencia in 2003 and Ballesteros, no longer able to save himself with his short-game skills, went down 5&4.

He lost all his four games that week and in the last competitive match for himself and Jose Maria Olazabal -- the greatest Ryder Cup partnership in history -- they lost to Justin Rose and Ian Poulter.

The event continues now without him around in person, but with memories that hopefully will never fade.