2019 WALKER CUP
Walker Cup Holds No Fears for Birthday Boy Gough September 4, 2019 | Hoylake, England By Declan McGinley, The R&A

Conor Gough, of England, could not ask for a better 17th birthday present than representing GB&I in the 47th Walker Cup Match. (The R&A)

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It’s a celebratory week for Conor Gough, even before a ball is struck in the 47th Walker Cup at Hoylake.

On Thursday, two days before the action tees off, the Englishman will blow out the candles on his 17th birthday and take further pride in becoming the second youngest player to ever compete in the biennial contest.

While such a fact could phase any promising youngster as the heat of battle approaches on the biggest amateur team stage, Gough is simply relishing his place in the Great Britain and Ireland team line up. A case of teenage kicks if you will.

Age no barrier

“Being such a young player doesn’t bother me at all,” says the Stoke Park player. “It’s match play, it’s a format I enjoy a lot so I’m confident and looking forward to getting underway. I’m 17 on Thursday so I look forward to being in the team room and having a few celebrations.”

While the classroom took up much of his time in the early part of the season, studying and successfully coming through his GCSEs in Year 11, there has been no detrimental impact on his golf. Indeed, his credentials simply could not be ignored by captain Craig Watson.

Rise to prominence

Gough had already caught the eye last year after he won the R&A Boys’ Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush, defeating Jose Luis Ballester to become the first Englishman to lift the trophy since Matthew Fitzpatrick in 2012.

The England Boys’ international also won the Fairhaven Trophy, the English U16 McGregor Trophy and played for the winning GB&I team in the Jacques Leglise Trophy in 2018.

This year, he strengthened his growing reputation when he claimed the English Amateur Championship at Hankley Common to add to the Major Champions Invitational title he captured in March at Bella Collina in Florida.

Currently, he sits an impressive number three in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ (WAGR™).

Killer instinct in match play

“I’m probably ahead of where I thought I would be at this stage in my career but I’m just taking things as they come and going with the flow,” said Gough, who also became the second youngest-ever winner of the English national crown.

“I think I’ve showed a killer instinct to win events. I think that is just a trait I’ve always had in match play and in other competitions. As soon as I know I have a chance, I go for it.

“I’ve also stayed patient with my golf. This year I haven’t played as much with my exams as I took a bit of time off. I know I can still play my best golf which is pleasing and hopefully I can peak for this week. I’ll just look to turn up and win my points.”

A win on home soil?

Watson’s side are bidding to win back the famous trophy after the USA secured a comfortable 19-7 victory in the 2017 match at Los Angeles Country Club. Home advantage has favoured the winners in recent matches with GB&I winning the biennial encounter in 2011 at Royal Aberdeen and 2015 at Royal Lytham & St Annes. Going further back, GB&I have won five of the past six contests on home soil.

Gough is one of five English players involved and the Buckinghamshire talent hopes having home support can help prove pivotal.

“I’m really looking forward to it and with playing in England as well, hopefully the crowd gets behind us which can be good for us… and not so good for the Americans,” added Gough, who came close to eclipsing Oliver Fisher as the youngest ever Walker Cup player. “Hoylake is an unbelievable course, so I’m looking forward to a lot of practice this week.”

Tiger inspiration

Gough has never attended a Walker Cup but watched the action on TV down the years. The match has inspired him, including the efforts of a former Walker Cup player, namely Tiger Woods.

“Tiger has been a big inspiration to me, watching him,” he said. “Watching his comeback at the Masters win inspired me even more. I can’t wait for this week to start now. I know most of the English guys well, like Alex Fitzpatrick, Tom Sloman and Thomas Plumb, and know the Irish boys as well. It will be a good team environment.”

After those birthday celebrations, Gough will hope for more in the team room come Sunday night.

Declan McGinley is the digital services executive for The R&A. Email him at declanmcginley@randa.org.