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As stomach virus rips through Walker Cup, feisty Great Britain and Ireland team hangs tough

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JUNO BEACH. Fla. – It takes a strong stomach to play in the pressures of a Walker Cup.

Unfortunately for the 48th Walker Cup at Seminole Golf Club, that adage has proven to be true literally.

The gastro-intestinal issues that have hit more than 15 players on the U.S. and Great Britain and Ireland teams this week became more dramatic Saturday when reigning U.S. Amateur champion Tyler Strafaci had to withdraw from his singles match after he became sick on the range and was rushed to a nearby hospital.

Strafaci, who plans on turning professional next week, had built his year’s schedule by concluding his amateur career at the Walker Cup. After receiving fluids and three IVs, Strafaci returned to Seminole and hugged his replacement, William Mouw, after Mouw’s 4-and-3 win over Ben Jones.

“It was tough,” Strafaci said. “I wanted to come out and compete. I’ve been preparing for this my entire life. But I just couldn’t walk 18 holes. (Mouw) got the job done and I feel a lot better about it.”

Strafaci’s withdrawal – one of four players to be replaced Saturday for health reasons – overshadowed a day when the heavily-favored U.S. struggled to a 7-5 lead over feisty GB&I. The Americans won 5-of-8 singles matches in glorious conditions at picturesque Seminole.

This is not the walkover most expected. The average world amateur ranking for the U.S. team is 15, compared to 66 for GBI.

“I think the guys have a lot of self-belief, and I don’t see why that should change,” said GB&I’s Jake Bolton, an alternate who helped his team win a foursomes match after replacing star Joe Long. “We’re all good players, and we all deserve to be here, so we’re going to give it our best shot.”

Both teams had to go to alternates for the first time in the Walker Cup’s 99-year history. The only reason alternates were on site this year was due to COVID-19 precautions.

Alternates Mac Meissner of the U.S. also was subbed into Saturday morning foursomes matches and led his team to a win.

Because of the stomach virus affecting both teams, the USGA changed its rules so the captains could delay announcing their foursomes and singles lineup. USGA officials ruled out COVID-19 and food poisoning as the cause. Strafaci is expected to play Sunday.

“It’s been bizarre for a lot of reasons,” said U.S. captain Nathaniel Crosby Jr., who also had to be hospitalized this week. “I think we have a one-up lead on guys who got sick this week (eight U.S. players to seven for GBI).

“Hat’s off to the USGA for being flexible. You don’t want to put guys out there who are sick and ask them to play 36 holes. It’s amazing we’re playing at all.”

The Americans dominated the morning foursomes matches and had a chance to take a 3 ½-½ lead until GBI roared back to flip a match and halve another one. The morning session ended in a 2-2 tie as all four matches went to the 18th hole for the first time since 1983.

The U.S. team, hoping to win on home soil for the fifth consecutive time, jumped to an afternoon lead. Florida sophomore Ricky Castillo won 5-and-3 over Ben Schmidt and Cole Hammer defeated John Murphy, 3-and-1, to both go 2-0 on Saturday.

“We were dropping like dominoes for a while,” Hammer said. “It’s not been easy. But we have handled adversity this week.”

Earlier, Hammer slammed home a 35-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to help him and partner Davis Thompson eke out a 1-up victory over Alex Fitzpatrick and Barclay Brown. Castillo and Meissner, pressed into action because of John Pak’s illness, defeated John Dyer and Matty Lamb, 2-up.

Mark Power was the lone GB&I player to go 2-0 Saturday. He defeated Davis Thompson, 3-and-2, after teaming with John Murphy for a 1-up victory over Quade Cummins and Austin Eckroat.

Pierceson Coody, grandson of former Masters champion Charles Coody, edged Alex Fitzpatrick, the younger brother of world No.17 Matthew Fitzpatrick, 2-up.

GB&I’s Barclay Brown beat John Pak, 2-and-1 and U.S’s Eckroat won two late holes for a 1-up victory over Angus Ferguson.

The U.S. team, which leads the series 37-9-1, needs 13 points to retain the cup. GBI needs 13 ½ to win the Cup. There are four foursomes matches and 10 singles matches Sunday.

original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/05/08/stomach-virus-walker-cup-great-britain-ireland/

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