Dream debut for Walker Cup history-maker Connor Graham as GB&I make strong start

Calum Scott, left, and Connor Graham react during the Saturday Foursomes on day one of the 49th Walker Cup at St Andrews. Picture: Oisin Keniry/R&A/R&A via Getty Images.
Calum Scott, left, and Connor Graham react during the Saturday Foursomes on day one of the 49th Walker Cup at St Andrews. Picture: Oisin Keniry/R&A/R&A via Getty Images.

Cheered on by a big crowd that was predominantly made up of members from Blairgowrie and Nairn, the respective home clubs of Graham and Scott, the tartan twosome recovered from being behind early on to beat Ben James and Caleb Surratt, the world No 7 and 8 respectively, 3&2 on the Old Course.

On a glorious sunny morning on the Fife coast, Graham and Scott produced a polished performance in the alternate shot format, covering the 16 holes in six-under-par and being bogey-free in the process.

“Yeah, it was a great experience,” admitted Graham, who, at 16 years and ten months, is a month younger than Oliver Fisher was when the Englishman played in the 2005 contest in Chicago. “It was quite nerve wracking at the start of the round, but I tried to get in the flow and play some good golf.”

Though they were let off the hook when the Americans missed a good chance at the first then fell behind to a birdie-3 from their opponents at the second, the GB&I duo quickly found their stride in a contest marking the 100th anniversary of the contest’s second staging in its history and first at the home of golf.

Graham, who is coached in St Andrews by Fintan Bonner, rolled in a six-footer for a hole-winning birdie at the third before a lovely chip - he had to come up over a steep slope to a tight front-right pin position - led to the first roar of the day being raised as they also won the par-5 fifth.

A brilliant tee shot from James, a quarter-finalist in last month’s US Amateur Championship, saw the Americans square matters with a 2 at the eighth, but the home duo immediately edged ahead with a birdie to close out the front nine before a three-putt from their opponents at the 11th doubled their deficit.

Though It was back to just one again when Surratt, runner-up in the 2022 US Junior Amateur, rolled in a 12 footer for birdie at the 12th, that only seemed to make Graham and Scott even more determined to get the job done for their captain, Forfar man Stuart Wilson.

From 140 yards, Graham hit the home team’s second shot at the 15th to around ten feet and Scott rolled in a “downhill left-to-right slider” for a birdie to put them two up before the Americans conceded at the next after James hit their tee shot out of bounds.

“Yeah, very pleased,” said 19-year-old Scott, who watched his older brother, Sandy, play in the 2019 match at Royal Liverpool and enjoyed having the roles reversed on this occasion.

“We didn’t know what to expect going into this match. Connor, at 16 years old, handled himself really well for something of this calibre against these top players. I couldn’t be happier for him as he played incredible.

“We both played really well. We judged it perfectly with tee shots and wedges. We knew Connor was going to have more wedges into greens and that was the best part of his game while I was good with the putter. The flatstick was working today, so, overall, it was really good.”

The effort helped GB&I take a 3-1 lead after the opening session, which ended in a dramatic fashion as American Daniel Summerhays missed a short par putt on the 18th in the second match before Irishman Alex Maguire, winner of the St Andrews Links Trophy earlier in the year, holed from 12 feet there to secure another point for GB&I in the anchor game.

“It was amazing,” said Scott of the show of support for the home side in an event that allows fans to walk out on the fairways. “It’s an absolute advantage over the Americans and, when you hit a good shot, it just motivates you and pumps you up a little more and makes you want to hit even better shots. It’s been incredible so far.”

As for those who’ve travelled from the Highlands to specifically cheer him, he added: “I can hear them all and also see them as they are wearing yellow hats to signify who they are and they’ve got ‘Team Calum’ on the back of the hats. It’s really cool to have that home support.”

Among those out supporting Graham was his big brother, Gregor, who created a slice of golfing history himself earlier this week when the 19-year-old became the first amateur to win on the Tartan Pro Tour, a circuit set up by Paul Lawrie to provide playing opportunities during the Covid pandemic and now a feeder tour for the Challenge Tour.

“It’s definitely quite surprising to make a Walker Cup at such a young age,” admitted Graham jnr, who has also been selected to play in the Junior Ryder Cup in Rome later this month. “It’s such a cool experience being here at the home of golf and playing in front of home fans.”

Foursomes (US names first)

Gordon Sargent/Dylan Menante bt Barclay Brown/Mark Power 3&2

Caleb Surratt/Ben James lost to Calum Scott/Conor Graham 3&2

Preston Summarhays/David Ford lost to Matthew MacLean/John Gough 1 hole

Nick Dunlap/Stewart Hagestad lost to Alex Maguire/James Ashfield 1 hole