HOYLAKE, England – The foursomes format has been presumed to be the bane of any American team’s existence in international cup events, be it this week’s Walker, next week’s Solheim or the higher-profile Ryder.
A discussion about the format highlighted the U.S. news conference Thursday afternoon here at Royal Liverpool, site of the 47th Walker Cup, which will begin Saturday morning with foursomes, commonly known as alternate shot.
© USGA/MATTHEW HARRIS
The 11th hole at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England, site of this week’s Walker Cup
Similar to the professional Ryder Cup, the U.S. had dominated the biennial Walker Cup from its 1922 debut, winning 30 of the first 34 and going 30-3-1. Things have changed in the past quarter century.
Since winning at Royal Porthcawl in 1995, Great Britain and Ireland has played the Americans evenly, going 6-6-0. GB&I ran off three consecutive victories, a first, in 1999-2003.
In those three triumphs, GB&I went 13-7-3 in foursomes. During the past Walker Cups, GB&I has posted a 43-44-9 record in foursomes, compared with a 59-116-21 mark before 1995.
“It's obviously very important, the foursomes, because it sets the tone,” GB&I captain Craig Watson said.
Each morning of the Saturday-Sunday matches will start with four foursomes matches. Since 1995, only the 2013 GB&I team won the foursomes sessions and lost the cup, underscoring the importance of the alternate-shot format.
During practice-squad matches in December in Florida, U.S. team manager Robbie Zalzneck told U.S. captain Nathaniel Crosby that playing foursomes as they were doing probably was a good idea because the Americans so often had been beaten in the format, especially overseas.
Two weeks ago at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort, Crosby continued to work with his team on strategy for the format.
“We played almost exclusively alternate shot, and we played a lot of guys playing with different partners, so they can expect the unexpected,” said Crosby, 57, the 1981 U.S. Amateur champion who played on the victorious 1983 U.S. Walker Cup team here at Royal Liverpool. “It's not something we grow up doing, but I think we're prepared, and we've kind of got our teams organized now. We've got the right players playing with the right players – a lot of chemistry, a lot of bickering, which makes it healthy. So, I think we're in good shape, and we're optimistic about alternate shot this time.”
Crosby, paired with partner William Hoffer on the second morning in the 1983 Walker Cup, won his only foursomes match, 2 up, against George Macgregor and Philip Walton.
“Well, I played one alternate-shot match in my life, so I'm not certain that I'm full of pearls of wisdom, although I did win here,” Crosby said. “If nothing else, we really focused on it. I don't think I'm going to be giving instruction on the how-to. I don't have a manual. If you don't play it, then you're not going to be used to it, and I think that's perhaps what's happened in the past. So, I think Robbie's curriculum of playing alternate shot every practice-squad match we had was a great idea, and I think we're more comfortable with it than perhaps in years gone by.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli