- Alistair Tait
The (almost) invisible side of golf
How many ordinary golf fans are aware the greatest team match in men’s amateur golf is taking place this week? How many actually care?
Yes, it’s Walker Cup week. A 10-man Great Britain & Ireland team will take on 10 of the best American amateurs at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida for the chance to win the cup George Herbert Walker bequeathed to golf.
Amateur golf might get its 15 minutes of fame this week before shrinking back into the shadows. How many mainstream publications will carry reports on the match?
There was a time when all British and Irish newspapers covered the Walker Cup. These days? Not so many. Thankfully we still have a cadre of excellent golf writers pushing for coverage of amateur golf, but it’s an uphill struggle. Many mainstream sports editors gave up on amateur golf a long, long time ago.
Shame because the amateur game is full of great tournaments that highlight golf's future stars. For men’s golf, the Walker Cup is the pinnacle. As Ron Green Jr writes in this week’s edition of Global Golf Post:
“It’s too bad more people won’t pay attention to the Walker Cup because it matters not just now but before and long after the matches are played. It’s one of the game’s heirlooms, passed down from one generation of amateurs to the next.”
Some of those players competing at Seminole will one day grace the upper echelons of the Official World Golf Ranking They’ll win major trophies. Nine of the top 20 players in the current world ranking appeared in the Walker Cup. Of those, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Collin Morikawa, Webb Simpson, and Rory McIlroy have won major trophies.
Scroll down the world order and you’ll find other major winners and top stars who’ve competed in the biennial match – Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Padraig Harrington….
You’d have thought with such a strong pedigree the Walker Cup wouldn’t struggle for publicity. How to alter this dynamic?
Green Jr and Global Golf Post colleague John Hopkins propose an idea former R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson made yonks ago: draft in top professionals to captain the respective sides. Dawson made the suggestion at a time when GB & I was running out of candidates to lead GB & I teams. Captains have traditionally played in the match and remained amateurs. However, very few current Walker Cup players stay in the unpaid game given the immense riches on offer in professional golf.
How about David Duval, Justin Leonard, or Tiger Woods, Green Jr suggests?:
“It’s a sacrilege to some, but the idea – maybe it’s better to call it a concept – has been discussed among USGA officials as a way of gently modernising the Walker Cup and injecting an element of star power into an event that has a history filled with future professional stars.”
“What about men like Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley or Graeme McDowell, all former Walker and Ryder Cuppers? McGinley and Harrington have, or soon will have, captained Europe in the Ryder Cup.”
Other former Walker Cuppers to have been considered for the captaincy include Jack Nicklaus and Colin Montgomerie. Pretty sure Nicklaus’s age would preclude him from doing so now, but can you imagine Montgomerie as Walker Cup captain? Tabloid newspapers would probably send journalists hoping the Scotsman would stage one of his famous temper tantrums. Imagine the headline: “Montgomerie storms out of Walker Cup?”
On a serious note, anything that elevates the Walker Cup to the level it deserves is welcome. If that means McGinley, Harrington, McDowell, or Montgomerie as captain then so be it.
Maybe then the match wouldn’t quite be so invisible.
#JustSaying: “We have a problem going forward since so few Walker Cup players remain amateur,” Peter Dawson speaking in 2013