Phelan and Moynihan team up for Walker debut
KEVIN PHELAN and Gavin Moynihan are planning to write a new chapter in the distinguished history of Irish golfers at the Walker Cup at the National Golf Links of America.
The duo have been paired up by Great Britain and Ireland captain Nigel Edwards for today's opening foursomes session.
Waterford's Phelan and Dubliner Moynihan will take on world No 4 Patrick Rodgers and No 12 Justin Thomas in the fourth foursomes match at 1.0 Irish time.
For Phelan (22), this weekend's showdown with the US on New York's Long Island is the final act in an illustrious amateur career.
Having graduated from North Florida University with a psychology degree, the steady Waterford Castle favourite is to seek his fortune in professional golf, starting with a visit to European Q-School this month.
In contrast, Moynihan, at 18 the youngest on either team, has just enrolled at the University of Alabama.
It's a measure of the calibre of The Island prospect's new 'school' that three of the golfers who helped Alabama lift the NCAA Division 1 title last May – Bobby Wyatt, Cory Whitsett and Justin Thomas – figure on the 10-man US line-up this weekend.
The Walker Cup goes back to its roots at The National, which hosted the first match in the biennial series between the US and Great Britain and Ireland in 1922. Interestingly, the home team were visited this week by former US President George W (for Walker!) Bush. His great-grandfather George Herbert Walker, a former member at The National and USGA president, inaugurated the event.
Though bookmakers rate the US as odds-on favourites, visiting captain Gareth Edwards can quietly fancy his team's chances of completing only the third victory by GB&I golfers on US soil and hanging on to the Walker Cup won at Royal Aberdeen in 2011.
Edwards rushed home to Wales early this week after his father Gwilym was taken seriously ill, but his return on Thursday is a major boost. A veteran of four Walker Cups as player and one as skipper, he's a master in this arena.
The US has won 34 of 43 Walker Cups played (there was one tie in 1965), but the sides are finely balanced these days. Each has won six of 12 matches since 1989 and GB&I's historic first victory in America at Peachtree.
Eoghan O'Connell halved with Phil Mickelson in the Sunday singles that year and won his other three matches, while Bangor's Garth McGimpsey also played sublimely.
Padraig Harrington and Jody Fanagan helped overcome Tiger Woods and Co at Royal Porthcawl in 1995, while Paddy Gribben figured in GB&I's next win at Nairn in '99.
Then Graeme McDowell and Michael Hoey starred alongside Luke Donald and Edwards on the side which slammed the States 15-9 at Ocean Forest in 2001, while skipper McGimpsey had Noel Fox and Colm Moriarty in the team which completed the hat-trick at Ganton in 2003.
The US won the next three, including 2007 at Co Down, where Rory McIlroy and Jonathan Caldwell played. Yet Edwards splendidly marshalled his players, including Alan Dunbar and Paul Cutler, to take down highly rated opponents in Aberdeen. His team this weekend boasts World No 1 Matthew Fitzpatrick (19), who followed-up on his Silver Medal-winning performance at July's British Open by becoming the first English winner in 102 years at the US Amateur.
Home captain Jim Holtgrieve has three of the world's top four amateurs, Michael Kim, Whitsett and Patrick Rodgers, in his hand. Yet with seven from the global top-25 in either camp, the match is finely balanced.
So, a controversial decision by the US to honour the tradition of lifelong amateurs at the Walker Cup by making compulsory the selection of two players of 'mid-age' (Nathan Smith, (33) and Todd White (45) as opposed to the nation's outright top-10, could be key.
TODAY'S FOURSOMES PAIRINGS
(GB&I names first)
N Kimsey & M Orrin v C Whitsett & B Wyatt (12.15 Irish time); M Fizpatrick & N Raymond v J Niebrugge & N Smith (12.30); G Porteous & R Pugh v M Weaver & T White (12.45); G Moynihan & K Phelan v P Rodgers & J Thomas (1.0). (Singles begin 5.45 Irish time).
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