Officials have been forced to change the rules of the 48th Walker Cup match after 14 players and both captains suffered “gastrointestinal issues” ahead off this weekend’s clash at Seminole Golf Club in Florida.
he tummy bug that affected two players from each side early in the week (including Kinsale’s John Murphy) spread to seven players on each side as well as to US skipper Nathanial Crosby and his counterpart Stuart Wilson yesterday.
As a result the USGA and the R&A were forced, not only to issue a statement explaining the tummy trouble was not caused by Covid-19, but also to change the rules of the event.
Both teams will now be allowed to use their two alternates throughout this weekend’s matches if necessary.
”We have very specific terms for the match,” said John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s Senior Managing Director, Championships. “They’re confidential from the standpoint of they’re usually done well ahead of time.
“Well, we’re a little flexible this time; we have to be. We have a 10-man team, and we’ve stuck with that. And we have two alternates, so we will use them as needed based on health and not anything else.”
The R&A’s Martin Slumbers added: “The key thing to remember is it is the original 10 that will be the core.”
As a result, Saturday morning’s four foursomes pairings won’t be released until 7 a.m local time (midday Irish time), which is less than two hours before the start of the first match.
The captains will be able to sub players in and out between sessions if a player is ill.
According to Bodemhamer, “less than a handful” of players also received IVs for fluids at a local hospital and most of those affected have recovered.
No official word was made by either team as to if any players would be unavailable for the opening four foursomes matches.
Kinsale’s John Murphy, who was tipped to partner Kilkenny’s Mark Power at some point, picked up the bug earlier in the week before recovering.
“It’s a stomach bug, and I guess it’s gone around both teams,” said England’s Alex Fitzpatrick. “It’s a little bit of adversity to deal with, but I think it only lasts for 12 to 24 hours or something, so hopefully we have the full team back by tomorrow.
“I’m being very cautious with what I eat and where I go, and I’m sanitising as much as I can. But it’s kind of luck of the draw really. I’m hoping that it doesn’t happen to me and that I can be healthy for tomorrow’s match.”
The US side looks set to dominate on paper with all 10 players ranked inside the top 23 in the world at the time of selection but Fitzpatrick is not fazed.
“Ranking is just a number. It doesn’t matter, you could be ranked 500, you could be ranked 1,” Fitzpatrick said. “It really doesn’t matter in match play. For me personally, I think if you’re No. 1 you’ve got way more pressure on you than someone who’s 500.”
His thoughts where echoed by Texan Cole Hammer, who is one of three US players with previous Walker Cup experience alongside Stewart Hagestad and Jon Pak, who was low amateur in the US Open at Winged Foot.
“At the end of the day this is alternate-shot or foursomes and singles and anything can happen, so it doesn’t really matter what it looks like on paper,” Hammer said. “We’ve just got to go out there and do everything we can to bring it back.”
As for the uncertainty having over both camps because of the tummy bug that’s doing the rounds, he was philosophical.
“You know, it’s all been happening so fast that one guy goes down, the next guy goes down,” he said. “But we’re all trying to rally around each other.
“I wouldn’t say it’s made us any more nervous about the match just because both teams have so many great players and obviously no one wants to get sick. But we’ll be just fine. I promise we’ll be ready to go tomorrow no matter what the deal is.”
As if the bug wasn’t enough, hopes that a firm and fast Seminole could give Great Britain and Ireland an edge were dashed when more than an inch of rain flooded the course on Thursday night.
“The torrential rain that happened yesterday was crazy,” Fitzpatrick said. “We couldn’t get out of our team room. We were stranded in there for about two hours, and we were looking out the window and seeing that the whole course was underwater, and being out there today we were spinning chips back.
“You could just tell that the course was just a little damp and I’d say it will make it a bit more for target golf, but at the same time that can be a bit dangerous with all the runoffs.
“It’ll be interesting to see how much it’s affected play with what you prepared for at the start of the week and what today has been.”