WALKER CUP

John Murphy and Mark Power looking forward to renewing their partnership and winning the Walker Cup

By Brian Keogh

Kinsale's John Murphy and Kilkenny's Mark Power are looking forward to renewing their foursomes partnership after being named in the 10-man Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup side to face the USA at Seminole in Florida from May 8-9.

"It's great that John got picked, and hopefully we can play together because we first played foursomes in the Boys Home internationals at Ballyliffin, and we've been unbeaten in competition ever since," said Wake Forest star Power (20).

While Dundalk's Caolan Rafferty, a veteran of 2019, and Holywood's Tom McKibbin will be disappointed not to get the nod, the R&A has selected a strong team with Scotland's Sandy Scott and England's Alex Fitzpatrick returning members of the 2019 side.

They are joined by England's Barclay Brown, Angus Flanagan, Ben Jones, Matty Lamb, Joe Long and Ben Schmidt with another two English players, Jack Dyer and Jake Bolton, the first and second reserves.

Windy conditions could help the visitors, and University of Louisville star Murphy (22) is looking forward to the challenge of taking on a high-powered US side before he turns professional later this year.

"Now that I've made the team, I want to be a member of a winning Walker Cup team, and I'm very excited about the prospect of playing with Mark," Murphy said.

"I played with him for the first time in the Munster Under 15's in Macroom when he was a 13-year old turning heads, and we've gone on to form a great partnership."

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Kinsale's John Murphy. Photo by Golffile

The 10-player US team, which will be captained by Nathaniel Crosby, includes current world number one Davis Thompson, world No 12 Tyler Strafaci (22) and world No 10 Ricky Castillo (20), who earned their places as the top three Americans in the World Amateur Golf Ranking on February 10.

The remaining players chosen by the working group are current world No 2 Pierceson Coody (21), No 22 Quade Cummins (24), No 17 Austin Eckroat (22), No 16 Stewart Hagestad (29), No 20 Cole Hammer (21) and No 25 William Mouw (20).

Hagestad, Hammer and Pak are returning players from the 2019 USA Team, which defeated GB&I, 15½-10½, at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, in Hoylake, England.

But while the US team are clear favourites on paper, Murphy and Power know that matchplay is a great leveller, and they won't be underestimated.

"It will be hard, but I think we have a good bunch of players, and if everyone can get hot, we can beat the American team, but at the same time, it's matchplay, so anything can happen," Power said.

Assessing the team's makeup, he sees other natural partnerships and knows that the Americans will pay a high price if they underestimate Stuart Wilson's squad.

"Alex Fitzpatrick has Barclay Brown who comes from the same course as him, so I'd imagine they'll be put together, so hopefully we'll get a chance to do something special," Power said. "I played Seminole a few weeks ago, and it was really enjoyable. It's tough, but it was pretty much stress-free

"Off the tee, it isn't too intimidating because it's quite wide. You'd have to have a long way offline to find some of those hazards. The tricky part is approach play, and a lot of the greens are like saucers, so it's going to be easy for people to miss greens and make mistakes.

"I don't see it playing into anyone's hands, but a bit of creativity around the greens will go along way and naturally, that should help us. It's hard to tell, but if it's windy, that might help us a little bit more, but it's a nice course, and it will be fair. To be honest, I'm hoping it blows a gale.

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Mark Power. Photo by Golffile

"I don't know if the Americans will underestimate us, but it's possible. I remember we played the Palmer Cup at Christmas at Bay Hill, and we would've been underdogs as the International team. They would've been favourites on home soil, and they're normally fairly arrogant, thinking they will beat us, but we ended up them trouncing them. But I'd say the Americans will be wary of being overconfident against us and if they are, well, fine. It's a challenge anyway."

Murphy, who plays to postpone taking up his exemption into the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship until 2022, still plans to turn professional at some stage this year. But he was thrilled to achieve his goal of making the team, having failed to make it in 2019.

"Times have been tough recently, so it's nice to have some positive news for Kinsale Golf Club," said the Munster star, who owes a debt of gratitude to his college coaches Ryan Blagg and Matt Werne and his coach at home, Ian Stafford.

"It's nice to see your hard work coming to fruition. I made a big mistake in 2019, focusing too much on the Walker Cup, thinking, if I have a result here or here, I'll be in the team. So I just stayed in the present this year and had the attitude that whatever happens happens. Good golf takes care of everything.

"So I tried to take that mindset into this year. Thankfully I played well at the right time. There were a couple of big events — the Jones Cup had a lot of emphasis given that virtually the whole squad was there. So I was pleased to see some hard work playing off during that event. I got off to a bad start. I was 50th after the first round but fought my way back to finish sixth. I think that was a critical finish in the scheme of things. Then I was second last week in Myrtle Beach, and I had a good feeling after that result I knew I was right there."

The former St Andrews Links Trophy winner reckons he's developed considerably in Louisville and become a far more reliable driver of the ball.

"I have learned a lot and steadily gotten better," he said. "I have gotten to know my game a lot more, which is important, and I know what works for me and what doesn't I am hoping to utilize that when I take the plunge into the pro ranks.

"I used to struggle off the tee, hitting a draw, but as the years have gone on, I've learned to control my driver a bit better. When he was with us, Aaron O'Callaghan got me moving towards the fade, and ever since I've gotten used to that shot, I'd like to think that is the strength of my game now, and I have a lot of control off the tee which helps certainly ."

Like Power, he's also played Seminole and knows the challenge will be around the greens with myriad runoffs and firm and fast conditions expected.

"It's such a unique test, just so different," he said. "There are a few lakes and things, but it's such a unique design, it's going to be sneaky difficult around the greens, and it's going to be pretty intimidating in that respect. Add to that the fact the wind is always blowing 10 to 15 miles an hour there. But around the greens, the Americans have a lot of experience and exposure to that type of golf. But hopefully, it blows there because we have plenty of guys on the team that can hit the low ball if needed. It's not a long course, but there is going to be a lot of creativity and imagination required, and I'm looking forward to that element of it as well.

"It rained before that challenge match between Rory and DJ and Matthew Wolff and Rickie Fowler in May last year. I think Seminole were disappointed by that. They wanted it firm and fast."

As for his plans to turn professional, Murphy has yet to make firm plans.

"I have an invitation for the AT&T Byron Nelson, but I have turned that down this year, and I'm going to wait until I am a professional next year to take it up," he said. "There is no point in me taking it up this year as an amateur when I've got so much going on in May already, so I am not going to put all my eggs in one basket.

"But I will turn professional at some point in 2021, I haven't decided where I will play. I am just taking it day by day for now. I want to keep my options open and give myself the best opportunity."

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Mark Power. Photo by Golffile

Power has already dipped his toes into the professional waters, having impressed as he made the cut in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Galgorm Castle last year.

But while his thoughts are firmly fixed on the college game right now as he enjoys his sophomore year at Wake Forest, he's also aware of his great matchplay record, and that's something he'd like to continue at the Walker Cup.

"So much of matchplay is about momentum, so hopefully we can get some going at Seminole and keep on rolling," he said.

As for his matchplay record, he was disappointed to bow out in the semi-finals of the Amateur Championship last year when he felt he could go all the way.

"I went nine from nine in the singles in my Boys Home International career, so that was cool," he said proudly. "I played Robin Williams, their number one player in my final singles, and I wanted to make it nine out of nine, so it was nice to do.

"We lost a Jacques Leglise Trophy in Ballybunion when they had a great team, but I was on the winning team in Finland the next time and last year's Amateur was also great, getting to the semi-finals and winning some great matches all along the way."

As for the GB&I team, he knows some will question the selectors, but he feels it's a balanced side with a great chance of doing well.

"I know Jack Dyer was making a great case for himself in South Africa, but he hasn't much English experience," he said. "It's easy for people to pick holes in the team, but I think we have a very strong, well-balanced team with Alex and Sandy playing last time and some good guys in form. We need to play our best, and the American side will be hard to beat, but they always are.

"John has been playing great as well recently. I have played so much golf with him, I know what he can produce. So I think the selectors made the right decision."

As for his own game, Power is pleased he has another month to hit top gear.

"It's been a bit frustrating the last month or two because I started off great on my first couple of tournaments with a couple of top fives, but then I went through a small bit of a patch where I wasn't 100% confident in my game, which is something I haven't had really had in a while because it's been plane sailing for about the last year.

"So having had a few confidence issues the last while, my game has been much better the last few weeks. Trying to get the scoring together is key, but we have lots of tournaments play before the Walker Cup, so I will be able to sharpen up.

"I've been able to hit the ball a long way my whole life, but driving consistency has been one thing I've concentrated on having the consistency to know I can stand up and put it in play. Even when I'm not scoring well now, it has not necessarily been my driving that's been letting me down. Off the tee, I have come on a lot, I can hit it a long way, but I can also hit it pretty straight.

"Recently, my approach play has let me down a little bit, but I've been working hard on that, and I've seen improvements. So it will come together. I have started to move the ball a little more left to right as a stock shot. When I was younger, I just hit the big draw to get as much distance as possible, but I wouldn't have been as confident hitting a left-to-right shot. Now, I am confident moving it both ways, and if there's a really tight tee-shot, I like to tee it down and squeeze out a low fade that could still run out there at 300-plus, so that's a nice shot to have.

"I am still in touch with Jimmy Bolger at home, and I communicate with him with swing videos, but I also rely on the coaches here as well as Jerry Haas, David Bass and Aaron O'Callaghan, and they know my tendencies and understand my game pretty well. I wouldn't necessarily be a technical player."

As a son of three-time Irish Men's Amateur Close winner Eddie Power and three-time Irish Ladies Close winner Eileen Rose McDaid, Power is also pleased for his golfing family.

"My family is obviously delighted, although they are disappointed they won't be able to come," he said. "The big goal is to win it now. As we saw from the WGC in Texas last week, anything can happen in match play. Only one of the top 20 seeds make it to the last 16, so the hot favourites don't always win."

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