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A 12 year examination

It's not easy in this game to predict who is going to make it, when they will break through and if they even get to the starting line. Data might help but mostly, it's pretty impossible to predict it!

12 years ago, the Walker Cup was played at Royal Aberdeen and it was a very exciting match, GB & I coming out 14-12 winners. The US had Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay, Harris English and Russell Henley in their ranks, four golfers currently competing at the 151st Open at Royal Liverpool. Of the GB & I team, only one of the ten are competing this week and at the time of writing, Michael (Mikey) Stewart is -4 through 7 holes of his second round, the best of the five of them so far and the best Scot of the seven who started.

The first match of 2011 was the foursomes; Tom Lewis and Mikey v. Harris English and Peter Uihlein. On the 17th hole, GB & I were 1 up and the US team were safely on the long 3-tiered par 3 green. Tom had pulled his par 3 tee shot long and left and a couple of Americans had pitched up next to me in the crowd. One of them was rubbing his hands and said to his friend, "we've got a chance to square it here" (or USA equivalent, he may have said "tie").  "I wouldn't be so sure about that", I said and pointing to Mikey as the players were walking towards the green, I explained "see that gentleman there, Mr Stewart has the best Short Game stats in the country". We got talking and it so happened that they were the pro and the General Manager of the National Golf Links, the venue of the next (2013) Walker Cup (where the USA got their revenge in a less-close encounter). Right on cue, Mikey played a delightful pitch into the bank, it bounced up a couple of times before crawling over the hump and running down next to the hole for a conceded par 3. A 3-putt from the US and it was game over, 2 & 1 and hand-shakes.


Both of these players turned pro after the event and five weeks after the Walker Cup, Lewis claimed the Portugal Masters on the European Tour on only his third pro start! The €416,660.00 he picked up for that stunning win certainly gave him some breathing space to fund his fledgling career but in his first full 6 years, he only managed one other top 3 in only the second year (2013) that he managed to get inside the top 100 on tour.

Mike got beat by Patrick Cantlay on the Saturday singles and beat the other Patrick, Rodgers on the Sunday. Tom got beat in the singles by Uihlein on Saturday afternoon, who took revenge for the morning foursomes and on the Sunday, it was Russell Henley who took a point against Lewis. As a pair, they were 1.5 out of 2 and to most observers, it was Stewart who played the best golf of the two. The very first shot of the 2011 Cup, the ball may well still be in the deep gorse bush that Lewis hit it into!

Predicting who of them might make money in the pro game is well nigh impossible. Fast forward one month from that Walker Cup experience, Lewis had picked up over 400,000 Euros but we have to fast forward TWELVE years before Stewart picked up the biggest cheque of his European Challenge Tour campaign, over €4,000 in March this year for a tied 11th in the Czech Republic. Most spectators at Hoylake and undoubtedly the VAST majority of the non-UK TV audience won't know who Mikey Stewart is. It's not like he's ever had any starts on the main tour, this is the first major that he's qualified for and yet, some of his peers on the Tartan Tour saw this coming for him at the ripe young age of 33.

With a bit of luck, Stewart can win on Sunday and even if he doesn't but keeps us this superb scoring, he might still earn an amount more than a hundred times more than he's ever previously won in golf! Only the busy tweeters (and some of the TV commentators) have a crystal ball with regard to the future. The stories behind the facts - whether golfers finding form or examining the composition of the scorecards through data analysis - are where the really interesting meat can be found and from which we can learn.

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Graham Walker

England Golf Men Squad Lead Coach
Coach to PGA Tour and DP World Tour players

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