Wednesday, 07 September 2011
Tom Lewis collects the silver medal  (Getty Images)
Tom Lewis collects the silver medal (Getty Images)

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

 

After more than three months of 72-hole stroke play tournaments dominating the landscape, head-to-head combat that is international team match play is back.

 

First up this weekend, the Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen pitching Britain and Ireland's amateurs against an American line-up that on paper 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 have hit back with a hat-trick of their own and the GB&I team are tasked with preventing them making it four in a row on Sunday.

 

The home team includes 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 Open Championship lead, but was the lowest round ever by an amateur in the event.

 

Whatever the temptations of turning professional straightaway, 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 on the amateur world rankings and there is another English player who is ahead of him at fifth - not Jack Senior despite reaching the semi-finals of the US 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 US PGA Tour in June, Jordan Spieth, a two-time US Junior champion, fellow teenager Patrick Rodgers, long-time number one Peter Uihlein, who scored a maximum four points two years ago, and Harris English, who like team-mate Russell Henley has already won on the Nationwide Tour.

 

The club professionals will be involved in a similar tussle the following week for the PGA Cup which again pits the United States against Great Britain and Ireland at CordeValle Golf Club, California, from September 16 – 18.

 

It will be the 25th anniversary of the match – the pinnacle for club professionals – with the GB&I team, captained by Russell Weir, hoping to avenge the defeat two years ago and land a first ever victory on US soil.

 

The Americans will also be going for a fourth successive triumph in the Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle north-west of Dublin on September 23-25.

 

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

 

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

 

Matches are not won by world rankings, though, and 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 cap 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 Great Britain and Ireland team again under Paul McGinley's captaincy against Continental Europe led this time by Jean Van de Velde.

 

It may not yet have the intensity of The Ryder Cup, but it has already had its memorable moments since 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 for five years and Montgomerie had won the last seven 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 (effectively joint last) in the world.

 

"I am pretty talented, but nothing like this guy here," Montgomerie said after watching a display in which Ballesteros hit 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.

 

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