Great Britain & Ireland captain Russell Weir hailed his ‘phenomenal’ PGA Cup team after they came close to staging one of the greatest comebacks ever seen in team golf at De Vere Slaley Hall.
The Scot, who spent Saturday afternoon in Hexham hospital after feeling unwell, masterminded a stunning 7.5-2.5 singles victory in the Sunday finale to tie the match 13-13 overall with the United States.
It was sufficient for Allen Wronowski’s US team to retain the Llandudno Trophy – as cup holders, but it was Weir’s GB&I players who carried the broader smiles at the climax of a riveting afternoon session of match play golf over the Hunting Course, which saw them end a run of three defeats in the biennial contest.
Singles Sunday at Slaley Hall will live long in the memory of those that fought, masterminded and witnessed a day in which GB&I and put their transatlantic cousins to the sword.
When Nick Brennan’s victory brought play on 10 enthralling matches to a close, the destination of the silverware played second fiddle to a jubilant GB&I team that very nearly produced the comeback of all comebacks.
On the eve of battle, the scenario was hardly one of joy for team GB&I. They lay five points adrift of a US team that needed ‘just’ two and half points to retain the cup and three to win, while their captain was taken to hospital after feeling unwell.
Given the situation, the talk was of ‘Medinah’ and a repeat of the miracle that would see this band of rookies somehow emulate their Ryder Cup counterparts. A mere eight points from 10 were needed.
“I said to Russell on the first tee I’m going to go out and make it as easy for you as possible,” was Richard Wallis’ words of comfort to their leader, while Graham Fox confirmed, “Russell being back on the tee gave us a big lift.”
The big guns has been loaded up with Benn Barham, Richard Wallis, Greig Hutcheon and Scott Henderson out in the first four matches.
Within half hour Barham and Wallis had posted blue on the board in their respective matches with Mike Small and Bob Sowards.
Hutcheon, who scored two points on Saturday, battled being under the weather against Kelly Mitchum, no doubt spurred on after seeing his 100 per cent record ended by the Scot the previous day.
It proved a close tussle, which fell the way of the American, 2&1, to leave the US just one and half points from victory.
However, with the rest team out on the course, the leaderboards were a sea of blue with Gareth Wright, Fox, Dan Greenwood, Brennan and Jon Barnes all registering early
The miracle was on…though erring on the side of caution was required in heaps.
Scott Henderson began to give hope to believe. In his head-to-head with JC Anderson he clawed back from two down with three to play to level with one to play.
Sensing the enormity, he targeted the pin and pulled a shot out of the bag that saw the golfing gods shine on him as it went between the branches of a pine tree to nestle 10 feet from the pin just off the back of the green.
His delicate chip back skirted the hole drawing gasps from the crowd, aware it would have won the match. Instead the point was split and there was no margin for error for the remaining six out on the course.
“It was do or die as I had put myself in that position,” said Henderson on his grandstand finish.
“I was disappointed with myself as I had it blue as well and when it went back to red I felt I was letting everybody else down.
“I had to roll a good putt for a half on 15 to stop going three down with three to go. I birded 16 and 17 and had a chip at the last from 10 feet and I knew I needed to hole that as he had a great up and down for his par. I’m happy to get half.”
As Henderson battled to the last, countryman Fox had brought his match to close with a dominant 3-2 display over Rod Perry.
A triumphant Fox said: “I don’t think anybody would have beaten me today, five birdies, no dropped shots and anytime I had a tricky par putt it was in so I didn’t give him any leeway at all.”
Wright knocked aside Jeff Sorensen 2&1, while the final two matches were also weighted in favour of GB&I and neither Brennan nor Barnes were in the mood to surrender.
All eyes focused on Greenwood and Callaway, with both of them having to avoid defeat.
Greenwood had led after the first but from then on had always been chasing Dobyns who maintained a slender one hole lead. At 17, Greenwood drew level and for the third time in four matches was going the down the last.
But as he did, the PGA Cup was lost as news filtered in that Callaway had lost 3&2 to Ryan Polzin. Ironically, Barnes had despatched Mark Sheftic 3&2 to maintain the winning momentum in the side.
The focus now was firmly on Greenwood, who overcame an awkward approach to land on the fringe of the green, while Dobyns’ approach missed the green hit the buggy path and required a ruling before being able to play.
The resulting chip left Dobyns a lot to do, while Greenwood’s first putt was five foot short. Standing over his ball a second time, he held his nerve and watched it fall into the cup much to delight of his watching team-mates.
“Thetwo putts on the 18th, this one and the one last night, have just got to be the scariest putts I’ve ever holed,” said Greenwood.
“I was just trying to do my bit. It was a good match we stayed pretty close together all the way through there were not many birdies but a lot of good shots. I totally get what this tournament is about now.”
As the hordes celebrated, it was announced at Brennan had seen off Chip Sullivan 3&2 to secure a tie for GB&I, as they wrapped up the singles 7.5 to 2.5.
“Today proved we’re as good, if not better than the Americans individually, we just need to figure out a way to get the team events and get some more points on the
board,” said Brennan.
“We said we needed eight points and eight from 10 in a big ask. Seven and half is also a big ask but we said let’s get at them and see what happens and see how they cope with the one-on-one thing under the cosh. This feels like a victory for us.”