ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – American Nick Dunlap had just lipped out a 50-footer from off the green at the Old Course’s par-4 finishing hole, ceding the stage to Alex Maguire, whose foursomes partner, James Ashfield, had left him 12 feet for birdie after hitting his fairway lag a good bit soft. If Maguire’s putt dropped, it would give Great Britain and Ireland a 3-1 advantage after Saturday morning’s opening session of the 49th Walker Cup.
Before stepping into his stroke, Maguire turned to Ashfield and declared, “I’m going to hole this.”
“We just wanted it so bad,” Maguire said afterward.
The home side dropped the first of four matches on the board, a 3-and-2 victory by Gordon Sargent and Dylan Menante over veterans Barclay Brown and Mark Power, who couldn’t keep pace with the speedy American duo. But GB&I rallied to win the next two, and when Maguire’s final putt dropped into the cup, igniting the mostly pro-GB&I crowd of a couple thousand surrounding the green as Maguire pumped his right fist in the air in a tight, circular motion, the massive underdog had the early upper hand.
“My partner can putt, to be fair, so he was ideal to have over them in that situation,” Ashfield said.
A hole earlier, at St. Andrews’ famed Road Hole, Maguire canned a fist-pumping 10-footer to retake the lead in a match that GB&I had led 3 up after seven holes before Dunlap, the U.S. Amateur champion, and Hagestad clawed back. The U.S. pair nearly took a late lead, too, but Ashfield’s par save from 20 feet kept the score tied and left the door open for Maguire to sink two clutch putts to win the match, 1 up.
“On 17, I tensed so much my abs and my stomach started to hurt going to 18 tee, so I had to take a few seconds,” Maguire said.
The feeling a few minutes later was exponentially greater.
“My body started pumping really,” Ashfield said. “I want to get back out there.”
Ashfield, though, will rest for Saturday afternoon’s eight-match singles session. He’ll be joined on the bench by Connor Graham, who at 16 years old is the youngest competitor in Walker Cup history yet teamed with fellow Scot Calum Scott to dispatch Ben James and Caleb Surratt, 3 and 2.
The Americans will sit James and Menante as they attempt to do something that’s never been done at a Walker Cup since the biennial event started awarding half-points for ties in 1971: Win after trailing 3-1 or worse after the opening foursomes session. And since the total points available increased from 24 to 26 in 2009, three teams (U.S. in 2009, and GB&I in 2011 and 2015) built 3-1 leads out of the gates before lifting the Cup.
“We came up a couple short,” U.S. captain Mike McCoy said. “We had two good opportunities on the last hole (Preston Summerhays missed a 7-footer for birdie that would’ve earned he and David Ford a half-point over Matt McClean and John Gough), and down but not defeated. We’re going to regroup here at lunch and send this strong team out this afternoon, see if we can earn some points. … They know what to do. They’ve been preparing for this for a long time. Just get them here on time and turn them loose.”
GB&I’s mindset remains simple as well.
“If we go out there and win each session, we’re going to win,” Maguire said. “So, we’ve done one out of the four.”
SATURDAY FOURSOMES RESULTS (GB&I 3, U.S. 1)
Gordon Sargent/Dylan Menante (U.S.) def. Barclay Brown/Mark Power, 3 and 2
Calum Scott/Connor Graham (GB&I) def. Ben James/Caleb Surratt, 3 and 2
Matt McClean/John Gough (GB&I) def. Preston Summerhays/David Ford, 1 up
Alex Maguire/James Ashfield (GB&I) def. Stewart Hagestad/Nick Dunlap, 1 up