I hope you’re all aware that the big event this weekend is the Walker Cup, the biennial match between the male amateurs of the United States and Great Britain and Ireland. It’s team match play, the best form of the game and is quaintly old-fashioned in that it’s still over two days, foursomes and singles each day – no fourballs, unlike the Curtis, Solheim and Ryder Cups. There are 26 points on offer, with four foursomes each day, eight singles on the first day and ten on Sunday, the second and last day.
GB&I won at Royal Lytham & St Annes two years ago but it’s a big ask to win in the US – we managed it in 1989, at Peachtree and in 2001 at Ocean Forest but that’s it. Take us out of Georgia and we struggle. This year the match is in California for only the second time, at Los Angeles Country Club, Beverly Hills way, a venue that’s about as far removed from your local muni as you can get. Funnily enough, the last time the match was in the Golden State, at Cypress Point, in 1981, I was there and I hope to be there again in 2023, when one of the most exclusive clubs anywhere has agreed to host the match again. It’s well worth the detour, a spectacular venue just along the coast from its brasher neighbour Pebble Beach, with the par three 16th ranking as one of the world’s most stunning holes. Look up the 16th, ice plant, Porky Oliver and Sandy Tatum and you’ll learn a lot about the place.
A lot of Walker Cuppers go on to stellar professional careers, so these days few of them stay amateur for long – although Padraig Harrington, always marching to the beat of his own singular drum, played in three matches. Tiger Woods looked as though he hated Royal Porthcawl, with good reason: it rained most of the time, the Americans lost, he was beaten by Gary Wolstenholme, a mismatch if ever there was one and a decent hamburger was hard to find. Two years later, in 1997, Woods won the Masters by 12 shots, his first of 14 major championship victories. Funny old game golf.
Keep an eye on this year’s players because some of them will undoubtedly go on to greater things. Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler are just two of today’s stars who played in the match at Royal County Down in 2007; Jordan Spieth was at Royal Aberdeen; Luke Donald and Paul Casey starred at Nairn; and the list goes on. Lifetime amateurs like Michael Bonallack, Joe Carr, Bill Campbell, Charlie Yates, Cecil Ewing and Peter McEvoy, to name just a few, worked tirelessly for the good of golf in one capacity or another and it was thanks to the Walker Cup that I learned about Ronnie White, a Lancashire solicitor who worked hard at his golf – and fitness – but fitted it all in around his work. Still, in five appearances, from 1947-1955, he won four of his singles and in the foursomes was a wonderful foil for Carr, a more flamboyant character but an equally ferocious competitor. White was known as “One Height” because of his ability to keep the ball low, boring it into the winds he encountered on courses like Wallasey, Birkdale and Hoylake. I’d love to have seen him play.
Things were a bit grey in the UK after World War II so the LA of today would be like another planet and it would be interesting to know what the courtesy cars were like in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Nigel Edwards, a former Walker Cup player and captain, who is now (as a Welshman) director of coaching at England Golf, posted this photo of his courtesy car this week on Twitter. Who could resist tweeting such a treat? Let’s hope the match is as eye-catching.