Thursday, September 22, 2011

US Loses Walker Cup at Aberdeen

Did anyone notice that the Walker Cup was played for and lost to the UK and Ireland? It attracted little media attention in the USA, but should.

The amateur version of the Ryder Cup national team competition, the Walker and Ryder Cups grew out of the early animosity between American and British and Scottish golfers in the early years of international competition.

When Walter Travis, an American citizen born in Australia, who had won the US Amateur at the Atlantic City Country Club, won the British Amateur, he refused to return to defend his title because of what he considered shabby treatment. John McDermott, the first native born American to win the US Open(1911-12) and ACCC professional didn't fare much better.

McDermott helped inflame the nationalist tone of the competition in 1913 when he declared, after soundly defeating Harry Vardon, Ted Ray and Wilfred Reid at Shawnee that the foreigners wouldn't take the US Open trophy home with them, and they didn't, thanks to amateur caddy Francis Ouimet at Brookline.

But it took Walter Hagen to set the record straight when he refused to compete in tournaments at clubs that refused to allow golf professionals in the clubhouse, thus liberating the pros from their pro shop station.

Clarance Hackney, another Atlantic City Country Club professional who succeeded McDermott in 1914 and remained pro until he died in 1940, was one of the Americans to compete with Hagen in the first pre-Ryder Cup team events that were held between the Americans and the UK.

While Philadelphia department store owner John Wannamaker put the Ryder Cup into formal competition, it was George Herbert Walker - grandfather of the first President Bush who the Walker Cup is named after, for his leadership of the US Golf Association.

The Walker Cup was played for once in South Jersey, at Pine Valley, and this year's event was held at Aberdeen, Scotland, where James "Jolly Jim" Fraser lived before immigrating to America to be a golf professional.

Aberdeen has a long history of golf, and the town Fraser was from is called Fraserburg, where there is a golf club that is the fifth oldest club in Scotland and the seventh oldest in the world.


Britain and Ireland won the Walker Cup for the first time since 2003, holding off the U.S. in the afternoon singles for a 14-12 victory on Sunday at Aberdeen, Scotland.

Britain and Ireland took an insurmountable lead when 17-year-old Welshman Rhys Pugh beat U.S. Amateur champion Kelly Kraft, 2 and 1, and Steven Brown halved with Blayne Barber. Paul Cutler than halved with American Patrick Cantlay in the final match of the biennial event between leading amateur players.

The U.S. leads the series, 34-8-1.

Walker Cup is tough act to follow

A stunning Walker Cup marked the start of a series of team matchplay tournaments that will add spice to the golfing calendar following the culmination of the major season.

The Seve Trophy pits the pros of Great Britain and Ireland against Continental Europe this week. Then it is the turn of Europe's professional women to try to overcome the United States in the Solheim Cup.

Pitching an individual sport like golf into a team environment has magical consequences as numerous Ryder Cups have proven and as the Walker Cup dramatically illustrated again atRoyal Aberdeen. GB&I's brilliant 14-12 success gave them victory in the competition for the first time in eight years.

How Alison Nicholas will want to emulate Nigel Edwards as she tries to inspire her European team to Solheim Cup success. It would be a victory that would be just as unexpected as the one celebrated by Edwards and co in Scotland.

If Nicholas is successful, it would also mean that the Ryder Cup, Walker Cup and Solheim Cup all reside on this side of the Atlantic.

Edwards led his young team magnificently against an American side that boasted supposedly the world's best amateur players. The chances of a home win were written off in almost every quarter bar the GB&I team room.

"Did I expect to be sat here winning? Yes, absolutely," Edwards said. "I had had a quiet look at the things people had said and written but I told the boys from the outset that they did not need worry about anyone else.

"All they needed to do was focus on themselves. They are very special and proved that this week. They did a great credit for themselves, their families and their countries."

Edwards led his team with a quiet confidence that gave him an inspiring authority. The Welshman's handling of the foursomes pairings was exemplary, with GB&I losing only one of the eight matches. It was perfect captaincy - and a similar level of leadership can be expected from Paul McGinley when he steers Britain in their defence of the Seve Trophy this week.

This event will not have the same intensity or resonance of the tournaments that sandwich it but it will give us another opportunity to measure McGinley as a potential Ryder Cup captain.

The Irishman was brilliant two years ago and his intelligence and passion for team golf will come to the fore even though the Seve Trophy pales in significance compared with the Ryder Cup, Walker Cup and Solheim Cup.

Much will be made of the absence of big names like Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer andSergio Garcia from this week's match but the fact that players skip the Seve Trophy tells you all you need to know about its true significance.

Should the stay-aways have made more effort to play in the year of the death of the man after whom the trophy is named? Perhaps, but it could be argued this match is a rather artificial memorial to Seve Ballesteros.

Yes, he was at the heart of its inception and it is his name on the trophy but he meant much more to the European game than this contest. It does not capture the imagination of the fans in the way his golf did or other team events do and, in all honesty, never will.

There are many other ways the game can honour the late Ballesteros and those not present in Versailles this week should not be regarded as snubbing his memory.

Indeed, many of them honour it by the standard of their play around the golfing world. No one did more than Ballesteros to demonstrate that there should be no ceiling on European players' ambitions.

This is well worth remembering at a time when the continent provides the top three in the world rankings - Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and McIlroy. Of those, only Westwood is competing in the Seve Trophy.

And while on the subject of team golf, it would be remiss not mention the PGA Cup this week. Great Britain and Ireland's club professionals are bidding to beat their American counterparts on US soil for the first time when they play in California.

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