The Walker Cup is a competition reminiscent of another era -- for better or worse
ARDMORE, Pa. -- There is much about the Walker Cup that merits celebration. In so many ways, the biennial match that pits the leading amateurs of Great Britain & Ireland against their American counterparts continues to represent all that is worth preserving in the greatest game of all. A throwback to a bygone age, the feel-good blend of friendly competition and cozy camaraderie recalls a golden era when something other than the professional tours actually mattered.
At the Walker Cup spectators walk the fairways alongside the players. At the Walker Cup the contest is unsullied by the overt commercialism of the Ryder and Presidents Cups. At the Walker Cup the opposing players do seem to interact with something akin to genuine kinship, even during their matches. At the Walker Cup, the result is important, but it isn't everything.
Even the ever-stuffy USGA seems to understand the distinction. On the sodden eve of the matches, senior director of rules and competitions, Mike Davis, declared the Walker Cup "a competition, not a championship." So, at least according to Davis, a weather delay would not necessarily have stretched the event into a third day. "If need be, three series of matches will probably be enough to identify a winner," he said.
It helps the Walker Cup, too, that it is routinely played on genuinely terrific courses on both sides of the Atlantic. The same cannot be said for its professional equivalent. In reverse order, the last five Walker Cups have been played at Merion, Royal County Down, Chicago Golf Club, Ganton and Ocean Forest. The last five Ryder Cups have taken place at Valhalla, the K Club, Oakland Hills, The Belfry and The Country Club. Almost universally brilliant versus mediocre-to-good: No contest.
Indeed, Merion the course proved to be the perfect host for match play at this level. With its endlessly fascinating blend of very long and very short holes, the 6,846-yard 2013 U.S. Open venue is ideal for head-to-head contests in which only a few of the participants routinely hit 300-yard-plus drives; at almost every hole something exciting is likely to happen and invariably it does.
Still, even the most cursory inspection of the compact premises does make one wonder how America's national championship is going to squeeze itself in. The depressing thoughts that the pin positions will be daft, the greens as concrete and the rough out of control are hard to dispel. All of which will occur -- as so often in this era of technological madness -- because of a golf ball that flies too far and too straight. So, yet again, true golfing quality is likely to be compromised in favor of economic considerations and/or fear of legal action from equipment manufacturers.
Anyway, the future is then. For now, let's stay positive. Bobby Jones loved the Walker Cup. So did Jack Nicklaus, who appeared in two. And Phil Mickelson is rumored to have had a pretty good time at Portmarnock in 1991 (even if he controversially expressed disappointment with the esthetic qualities of Ireland's women).
Maybe only Tiger, who has never really embraced the concept of team in golf, has missed the point of all the backslapping, hand-shaking and self congratulatory bonhomie that goes with an occasion that debuted as far back as 1922. In 1995, as the closing dinner was being held after the matches at Royal Porthcawl, the future world No. 1 was reportedly spotted scoffing a Big Mac in nearby Cardiff.
I have a theory about that supposed snub, however. Maybe the immature and impecunious Tiger just wanted to get away from the rich white folks for a while. Maybe his younger self just wasn't comfortable in a Walker Cup environment for reasons that had nothing to do with his uniquely driven personality or an adolescent craving for junk food. Based solely on the 42nd installment that saw a clearly superior U.S. side bludgeon GB&I to the tune of 16 ½ - 9 ½ over the last couple of days, it would be hard to blame him. Everywhere one looked at Merion, a sea of white, predominantly preppy faces peered back. A broad cross-section of society this most certainly was not.