The Walker Cup, the 46th staging of which concluded yesterday at the Los Angeles Country Club, began in 1922 at the instigation of George Herbert Walker, who was president of the United States Golf Association when the competition was planned. Walker was also the grandfather of George H.W. Bush and the great-grandfather of George W. Bush, respectively the 41st and 43rd presidents of the United States. The ‘W’ in both their names stands for ‘Walker’. So far as I am aware there is no impending announcement regarding any ‘Trump Trophy’, but don’t rule that out forever.
Although the event preceded the inauguration of its professional equivalent by five years, it is easy to see why it is commonly characterised as the amateur version of the Ryder Cup. It pits Great Britain & Ireland against the USA, just as its professional counterpart did until continental Europeans were added to that team with effect from 1979.
In fact, if there had been an obvious way to reinforce the GB&I team in the first 60 years or so of the Walker Cup’s existence, that would surely have happened. Between 1922 and 1987, GB&I won just twice, in 1938 and 1971, both times at St Andrews, and managed a tie in Baltimore in 1965 when Clive Clark holed a 30-foot putt on the final green of his singles.
The pre-War matches are indeed evocative of a bygone era. In the very first match, Bernard Darwin, the esteemed golf correspondent of The Times, was drafted in to play for GB&I after the British captain, Robert Harris, had fallen ill. What’s more, he won his singles. A more accurate reflection of those days was provided by Henry Longhurst, writing for the Sunday Times of the 1936 match at Pine Valley. GB&I halved three matches and lost the other nine. (The format has since been altered.) A forlorn Longhurst noted: “The British side of the scoreboard looked like a daisy chain, with twelve noughts one beneath the other.”
However, for several reasons, including an increasing number of British golfers gaining scholarships to attend American universities, the tide has changed over the past 30 years. The outcome is no longer pretty much a formality. GB&I won in 1989 (at Peachtree in Atlanta), in 1995, in 1999 (at Nairn, where Paul Casey and Luke Donald starred for the home team, winning their two foursomes matches together and each winning their two singles), in 2001 (again in the USA), and in 2003, 2011 and 2015. GB&I therefore arrived in LA as holders of the Walker Cup and having won seven of the past 14 encounters.
The format now calls for two days of four foursomes followed by eight singles. In the opening foursomes this year, GB&I led off with Harry Ellis, the reigning Amateur champion, and Alfie Plant, who won the silver medal for being low amateur at this year’s Open. This was not such a glorious occasion for them. They lost by 8&7 to Colin Morikawa and Norman Xiong, the most decisive hammering in Walker Cup history. GB&I still managed to share the foursomes 2-2 but they were turned over in the singles and trailed by 8-4 going into the second day. That proved far too big a deficit to even threaten to overcome. The USA won 19-7. This contest at least was back to the walkover days.
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