Friday, September 09, 2011


The Walker Cup is coming up this weekend at Royal Aberdeen in Scotland, a classic and wild links course.
For that, we have to thank the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club for taking this amateur event to great layouts — Merion, Royal County Down and Chicago Golf Club, to name a few — unlike the Ryder Cup, where the respective PGA organisations forsake the good of the competition in favor of sites where they can make the most money. That's why the Ryder Cup has been stuck with non-classics — the K Club, Celtic Manor, The Belfry, Valhalla and others.
The Walker Cup remains about the competition, something that has gotten misplaced at times in the Ryder Cup. The beauty of this amateur competition is that it truly is a toss-up, even though the American side routed Great Britain and Ireland two years ago.
The Americans are favoured to win a fourth straight time, thanks to Peter Uihlein, the 2010 U.S. Amateur champ; three-time Mid-Amateur champ Nathan Smith; two-time Junior Am winner Jordan Spieth; Patrick Cantlay, the UCLA sophomore-to-be who made the cut in four pro events this summer and narrowly lost the U.S. Amateur to Kelly Kraft.
The Americans also boast Russell Henley and Harris English, two players who won Nationwide Tour events this summer. That would seem to make the lineup lopsided in the Americans' favor, but it'll be links golf at Aberdeen. The weather could level the playing field dramatically, as could the format.
As great as the Walker Cup is, the non-transparent selection process has come under scrutiny this year. There is no points system. The players are simply announced, even anointed, by an anonymous committee. At least one past American team captain told a team member that he wanted two specific players to fill his last two picks, and he didn't get them. Why not? And who's really in charge here? Not the team captain, obviously.
Controversy hovered over both teams this year. Ireland's Alan Dunbar was named to the GB and I team instead of David Law, who has won two of the last three Scottish Amateurs. Law was 87th in the R and A's amateur rankings, while Dunbar was No. 208.
On the U.S. side, NCAA champion John Peterson was surprisingly left off the team. In addition to winning the NCAA title, Peterson finished second to English in his Nationwide win, and he was the seventh-ranked amateur in the world.
Who is there to point a finger at? No one. Just the governing bodies. I'd like to see the teams chosen with a points system or even by one of the current amateur ranking systems. That would help eliminate this kind of controversy and the scent of politics and backroom deals.
Also, the Walker Cup has never caught the public's attention because, well, it's amateur golf. Another reason is that it's over and done before you know it started. While the Ryder Cup is contested over three days, the Walker Cup is a double-session Saturday and Sunday, that's all. The drama doesn't have time to build. A third day would make it more attractive, at least for television. But maybe it's better as pure golf.
Another troubling thing about the Walker Cup is also troubling about the Ryder Cup. Why is so much of the world excluded from this competition?
The GB and I team expanded to include all of Europe in the Ryder Cup, a formula that made the matches more competitive and more exciting. Maybe only the U.S. and GB and I were golf-worthy when Samuel Ryder began his matches, but now the game has gone global.
It didn't make sense to keep Greg Norman of Australia out of the Ryder Cup any more than it made sense to keep Karrie Webb of Australia, Lorena Ochoa of Mexico and current women's world No. 1 Yani Tseng out of the Solheim Cup, the women's equivalent of the Ryder Cup.
A stunning number of good young players are from Italy, Germany, Sweden and Spain, but they aren't eligible for the Walker Cup.
Golf is being added to the Olympics in order to expand the game's reach. The Walker Cup could start by reaching out to the rest of the European continent.
Or is this an English-speaking competition only?



Dear Colin,
Thank you for bringing this article to our attention and much as I found it highly interesting on a number of counts, I find myself wondering what the point actually was? What was the writer's principal objective here?
Your title suggested that the Walker Cup should now be a three day event whereas the original title was "Walker Cup selection process has to go". Both are debatable points in their own right but the closing line - "Or is this an English-speaking competition only" - troubles me.
This suggestion of cronyism at best and racist exclusion at worst is thoroughly unmerited. Is there noise from European amateur golfers that they want part of this traditional two day bi-annual event? I don't see what's wrong with two teams going head-to-head as they have been doing for decades? The comparison with the Ryder Cup isn't an exact parallel in that the professional teams are now broadly representative of the two major tours in World Golf.
The origins of both the Walker and Ryder Cups were almost exactly the same, the two principal golfing "territories" in world golf enjoying a bi-annual celebration of the game in healthy rivalry and competition. Then the Ryder Cup became too one-sided as the European Tour grew and it was the emergence of the European players such as Ballesteros and Langer and many others thereafter who came through at the expense of the purely British and Irish golfers who had dominated before. It was natural to look at revising the Ryder Cup in this climate of change.
Rather than a negative argument and strong hints of exclusionism, the argument for including Europeans or otherwise changing this showcase event for British and American amateur golf might have been better served by presenting actual reasons for change and a positive framework for the future. In this regard, I fail to see precisely what the writer is canvassing for?
Is it wrong for the Brits to compete against the Americans in this bi-annual competition? Is it being exclusive for continuing a long tradition? Of course it's not so why the snidey overtones? If the Walker Cup becomes a procession for the US team as it had become in the professional game up to the 70's and becomes a non-competitive event in the future, this might be one valid reason for considering change.
If there is a widespread call for change, I've not come across it before. If any party agitating for change wants to put forward a clear and articulate case, I'm pretty sure it might have more chance of being listened to than this article which appears to be full of contradictions. For example, in one breath it says that European inclusion in the Ryder Cup is "a formula that made the matches more competitive and more exciting" and yet in another breath saying "the beauty of this amateur competition is that it truly is a toss-up..." The article thanks the USGA and R & A for their organisation of the Walker Cup yet criticises the venues for the Ryder Cup. That's a point in it's own right for separate debate but the overall thrust of this article is clouded and confusing, including his references to the outstanding Mexican and Australian talents who have graced the world stages.
The emergence of golf in Europe in the last forty years has been tremendous for the game as has the growth of Asian golf in the last couple of decades which is set to explode further. Before the Molinari's and Manassero, the capital city, Rome, had less than half the number of golf courses that they now have, both completed and/or under construction. Italy won the World Cup and will undoubtedly attract substantially more people to the game following some tremendous role models and the provision of excellent new facilities.
I'm not sure that the timing is right to even consider a change to the Walker Cup although a resounding win by the USA come Sunday night might accelerate any case for review, should one exist. What is particularly interesting about the changing face of amateur golf however can be seen by reviewing the winners by nationality of The Amateur championship, often known as the "British Amateur".
This century, all twelve victors have come from twelve different nations, ironically the South Korean last year and the Australian this year beating Scotland's representatives in this Walker Cup, James Byrne and Mikey Stewart.
Until the first world war, it was all Scots and English with the lone exception of USA's Walter Travis in 1904. Between the wars, it was only Scots, English and Americans and 1946 saw the first Irish winner, closely followed by two more Irishmen in 1949 and 1953. The first Australian won in Muirfield in 1954 and in 1966, Bobby Cole of South Africa won. Until 1980, only six nations had produced winners of this championship which had been running since 1885. The winners between 1981 and 1990 came from seven different nations including the first winners from Wales - three of them (Evans, Parkin and Dodd) and Continental Europe.
The variety of recent winners of The Amateur is remarkable and evidence of the global nature of the game. For this, the world's governing bodies need to be highly commended. But the expansion of golf worldwide doesn't mean that the bi-annual match known as the Walker Cup needs to change. If there is a problem with the Brits and the Yanks slugging it out this weekend at a great links, one of the oldest in the world, then present a case for it or otherwise spit out what he really means. If the principal point he was trying to make was concerning team selection (as his title would suggest), try fitting all the candidates from all European nations (or should that be South American or Anzacs too, and what about Asia and Africa etc.) into one ten man team!
Graeme Leslie



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