Walker Cup, happy thoughts

Added on September 20th, 2019 by Lorne Smith
Posted in General, TV Coverage

The most prevalent feeling I experienced from attending my first Walker Cup was of the abundant happiness among those present.

There is no better venue than Royal Liverpool at Hoylake, historically the home of British amateur golf. It hosted the first Amateur Championship in 1885, the first amateur match between the USA and GB&I in 1921 and their most famous son John Ball won a never to be broken record of eight Amateur Championships.

The Walker Cup has become the pinnacle of USA and GB&I amateur golf and it attracts, helped by R&A hospitality, the great and good of amateur golf to congregate with representatives of so many clubs from both sides of the pond.

Good crowds attend but not so large that one could not follow a match closely (and it’s all match-play, foursomes and singles and no fourballs) from the fairway and see every shot easily and it also helped that the famed open blue skies above the tip of the Wirral required sun cream.

Sky Sports showed highlights late in the evening.

My happiness blossomed as wherever I walked, stood or sat across the course I seemed to bump into a friend, somebody I had wanted to speak with or just one of the family or friends of the Williams family with whose beloved matriarch we were staying. I was introduced to Mark Eley whose GolfBible.co.uk is about all forms of amateur golf and whose independent and unofficial WalkerCup.co.uk will give you all you ever wanted to know about this special event.

The stewards, who unfortunately when having an official badge or ‘quiet’ sign in their hand can often take the opportunity to over-emphasise their status, were as polite and knowledgeable as the eager watchers.

Following recent rain the course was greener than desired and a lack of wind also reduced further the challenge offered to the players. When Craig Gilholm became course manger here just before the 2006 Open Championship he was lucky with the dry weather that presented the course, dominated then by annual meadow grass, as a brown running course. Now, after thirteen years of conservation greenkeeping encouraging the fine grasses, it is naturally firm and running even when a green colour.

The firm fescue fairways were in immaculate condition – in fact so much so that one well-known television golf commentator, rather surprisingly though pleasingly, told me that he was disappointed that most courses were so manicured these days. See FineGolf’s take on ‘manicuring and beauty through wildness tamed’

As for the finest amateur players in the world? They are so young! Aged from seventeen to twenty-eight with sixteen of the twenty playing being aged twenty-two or below. Perhaps one reason for this is that many of them turn pro within a year to try to pick up the rewards and opportunities that continue to grow in the pro game.

It is interesting to see the statistics of the fourteen GB&I and seven USA players since 1922 who have each played in the Walker Cup five or more times, which we give at the end of these thoughts.

Caolan Rafferty loses on the 17th after being unable to put his wedge shot close.

This year’s players all used wedges or putters from off the green complexes while their bunker play was quite exceptional.

One obvious mistake I saw was when off the back of the twelfth green Alex Fitzpatrick (younger brother of Matthew who is already a pro) flopped and stopped his wedge shot fifteen feet short. It doesn’t seem that the sensible bump-and-run with an eight iron that gives better distance control on a running course is part of these boys’ armoury.

The rough, strong in places with the presence of dog rose, was just off the fairways mostly beautifully wispy and these boys, who reminded me of Tiger at a Lytham Open some time ago, thought they could muscle their way out of trouble. Two, one from each side, I watched on the fifteenth (re-named ‘Johnny’s alley’ in FineGolf’s review), after their foursomes partners had sailed their shots over the eyelid bunkers into medium rough, tried for the green and inevitably pulled their irons into heavier rough, instead as Tiger did, safely recovered back out onto the fairway.

A rule of foursomes is that when ones partner has a bad shot your emphasis should be on recovery or the psychology of the team can quickly spiral downwards!

Tudor Williams speaking at the opening ceremony

The Captain of the hosting Club in their 150th year, set the scene well and summed up the true values of amateur golf in saying to the players at the opening ceremony: “Good luck, play well, play hard, play fair but most of all, enjoy it”.

The Americans, who in contrast to our more bullish players at the opening ceremony were quieter, perhaps enjoyed the weekend more and came through strongly on the Sunday afternoon to win, taking the overall score-line since 1922 to a rugby-like 37 to 9.

Will some start calling for amateurs from other European countries to be considered for inclusion in case they can improve the standards of our play? FineGolf’s instinct says that the present traditional format that creates such happiness is unlikely to be changed.

Cyril Tolley                ENG   aged 35  6 caps  1922 to 1934  at 47

Roger Wethered       ENG  aged 22   5 caps   1922 to 1934

Francis Ouimet        USA   aged 29   8 caps   1922 to 1934

Bob Jones                  USA   aged 20   5 caps   1922 to 1930

Jess Sweetser            USA   aged 20   6 caps   1922 to 1932

Tony Torrance          SCO   aged 33  5 caps    1924 to 1934

Cecil Ewing               IRL    aged 26  6 caps    1936 to 1956

Joe Carr                     IRL    aged 25  11 caps   1947 to 1967 at 45

Ronny White            ENG  aged 26  5 caps     1947 to 1955

Gerald Micklem       ENG  aged 35  6 caps     1947 to 1959  at 47

Charles Coe               USA  aged 25  6 caps     1949 to 1963

William Campbell    USA  aged 28  8 caps     1951 to 1975

Billy Patten                USA  aged 33  5 caps     1955 to 1965

Michael Bonallack   ENG  aged 22  9 caps     1957 to 1973

Charles Green           SCO  aged 30  7 caps      1963 to 1985  at 52

Rodney Foster          ENG  aged 23  7 caps      1965 to 1981

George MacGregor  SCO  aged 26  7 caps      1971 to 1993  at 46

Peter McEvoy           ENG  aged 22  7 caps     1977 to 2001  at 46

Jay Sigel                    USA  aged 33  9 caps      1977 to 1993  at 49

Garth McGimpsey   IRL   aged 30  5 caps     1985 to 2005

Gary Wolstenholme ENG aged 35  6 caps    1995 to 2005  at 45

Reader Comments

On October 3rd, 2019 Rob Stevens said:

Lorne , I too attended my first Walker Cup this year at Hoylake. It was a real eyeopener, a pleasure watching these potential future champions. The event itself had the feel of a gentle garden party. Walking the fairways with the players felt like returning to experiences of golf watchers from yesteryear. It was a great social event meeting golfing friends and acquaintances. I am biased as a member of RLGC although the course was a little soft (following a rainy August) but the course played really well and I sensed the players enjoyed the event -notwithstanding GB&I being the wrong side of the result. I recommend anyone with the chance to watch future Walker Cups’ go and see it first hand.

On October 25th, 2019 Tony Haines said:

Agree with your view that Hollinwell is the best in the Midlands.
Thank for another good read.

On April 25th, 2020 Brian Morgan said:

I too enjoyed the past year’s Walker Cup and as the official photographer for the US team I had a great week with my friend Nathaniel Crosby whom I have known since days of the “Crosby” I loved the way the course was presented and enjoyed watching these very talented young men work out how to play all the shots required especially around the greens. RLGC are to be congratulated on the way they ran the event with class and style.

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