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The Walker Cup Returns to Shinnecock

By Robert Sidorsky

The International Match for the Walker Cup, in which the eight leading amateur golfers from the United States compete against their counterparts from Great Britain and Ireland, has been justifiably acclaimed as the premiere event in amateur golf since it was first played in 1922. Certainly, it is the international sporting competition that is the most steeped in tradition and prestige aside from the Olympic games.

Last month, the 26th Walker Cup Match was held at the oldest 18-hole course in America--the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southhampton, Long Island. The match began to the skree of a bagpipe regiment marching down the first fairway playing "Scotland the Brave" and ended with the American team continuing its traditional dominance of the competition by defeating the British contingent 16-8.

Despite the one-sidedness of the final results, both teams have maintained their respective esprit de corps through the years, and for the visiting squad the match is nothing short of a golfing crusade. At the same time the Walker Cup Match has been essential in fostering the spirit of comraderie that exists between golfers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The match in large part owes its success to the efforts of its namesake--George Herbert Walker. At a meeting on December 21, 1920, Walker, who was then serving as president of the United States Golf Association, offered to donate an International Challenge Trophy. The press referred to the trophy as the "Walker Cup" and the name stuck.

Walker grandiosely envisioned a match between teams from several nations and in 1921 the United States Golf Association went so far as to invite any country which could field a team to participate in the competition. There were no takers at the time, but in 1922, just one year later, Britain sent over a squad to compete for the Walker Cup at Walker's home club, The National Golf Links of America. The National is a sister club bordering Shinnecock Hills, the site of this year's match.

The American team won that inaugural encounter 8-4 and by the time the next match was held back in Scotland at St. Andrews, the Walker Cup competition had burgeoned into a keen transatlantic rivalry. In 1924, it was formally decided to hold the match biennially in alternate countries.

Through the years the Walker Cup has managed to maintain the spirit of gentlemanly integrity and unconcealed exuberance associated with amateur golf since the heyday of Bobby Jones. Despite the tremendous popularity now enjoyed by the leading pros, the Walker Cup continues to be a more appealing event than its professional counterpart, the Ryder Cup.

Perhaps the greater appeal of the Walker Cup is that the amateurs have preserved a patriotic ardor. This is especially true of the British side. Having won only two out of the 26 Walker Cup Matches, the undaunted British have countless times striven to field a team with that special winning chemistry. Despite many near misses, they have achieved success only in 1938 and 1971.

The Walker Cup, and American golf in general, can trace its roots back to an incident that took place at the French Riviera resort of Biarritz in the winter of 1890-91. William K. Vanderbilt, the son of "Commodore" Vanderbilt who had founded the family fortune, was journeying through the south of France on his Grand Tour when he stumbled upon a Scottish professional named Willie Dunn giving a golfing exhibition. Dunn had every right to be proud of his own blood lines, as his father, "Old Willie" Dunn, had finished second in the very first British Open.

Soon after that landmark encounter, Duncan Cryder, who had been a member of Vanderbilt's party, sounded out another Southampton resident named Samuel Parrish, who was then vacationing in Italy, about the possibility of introducing golf in Southampton. Parrish hurriedly arranged for Willie Dunn to get a passage on a steamship so he could come to Southampton and begin building a golf course at once.

Vanderbilt, who moved with more than a little panache through the sporting set, watched Dunn hit a few shots and then turned to the members of his entourage to pass judgment on the newly discovered game. "Gentlemen," he said, "this beats rifle shooting for distance and accuracy. It is a game I think would go in our country."

Parrish accompanied Dunn in surveying the land for the most suitable stretch on which to play golf. Parrish later recorded his adventures with Dunn, writing, "Dunn teed up a ball and handed me a driver. By some fortunate dispensation of Providence, I happened to make a drive--all too frequently failing since of repetition in my 32 years of golf--and the ball went sailing over the embankment of the railroad track...this then having been the first ball ever struck on the Shinnecock Hills. It is needless to recall here the experience of thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands, of American golfers since 1891 when I say that I at once became a convert to, and a devoted follower of, the game."

Dunn eventually settled on a wilderness of weatherbeaten dune overlooking Great Peconic Bay and laid out the first 18-hole gold course in America. Dunn hired a crew of 150 Shinnecock Indians from the nearby reservation and began construction on Shinnecock Hills in the summer of 1891.

Dunn later described the painstaking work that went into fashioning the links, saying: "Except for several horse-drawn roadscrapers all the work was done by hand. The fairways were cleaned off and the natural grass left in. The rough was very rough with clothes-ripping blueberry bushes, large boulders and many small gullies. The place was dotted with Indian burial mounds and many sandtraps."

Over the years, the unkempt swathe of land also served as a favorite dumping ground for whiskey bottles. Dunn recalled, "One never knew when an explosion shot in a trap would bring out a couple of firewater flasks, or perhaps a bone or two."

By 1896, Shinnecock was a well-established club and was selected as the site of that year's U.S. Open. One of the participants in the 1896 Open was John Shippen, who had helped to build the course. Shippen's mother was a Shinnecock Indian and his father was a Black minister. Dunn had befriended him and taught him how to play the game.

When some of the club members sponsored Shippen in the Open, many of the other professionals vehemently objected. However, the first president of the USGA, the sugar magnate Theodore Havemeyer, declared that Shippen was just as eligible to play as anyone else. Havemeyer's decisions helped set the precedent that the U.S. Open is genuinely "open" to any qualifier and enabled John Shippen to become the first player of black ancestry to compete in a golf championship.

While Shinnecock was hosting the championship in 1896, one of its members, 17-year-old Beatrix Hoyt, was competing in her first U.S. Women's Championship. Hoyt, the granddaughter of Salmon P. Chase, who was Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury and a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, won the title three straight times and then "retired" from competition at the age of 20. She never married and became a landscape painter and sculptor of animals.

Shinnecock Hills was also the trendsetter for the social exclusiveness that became characteristic of prominent clubs. It was the first course to boast a clubhouse, which ever since have become accepted as de rigeur. Moreover, the clubhouse was designed by Stanford White, the legendary architect of the period. By the turn of the century, Shinnecock had become the first American golf club to be incorporated and have a waiting list.

All of the luminaries who belonged to Shinnecock Hills over the years learned the game under the strict tutelage of a single task-master. Born in County Angus, Scotland, Charlie Thom emigrated to America in 1898 and became the professional at Shinnecock in 1906. He retired in 1961, but at age 96 Charlie Thom is still a fixture of Shinnecock Hills. A truly great player who never felt the need to prove his talents by playing on the tour, Thom is a throwback to the early Scotch golfing missionaries who devoted their lives to spreading the gospel of the game.

One well-known story about Thom has to do with the time he went into New York City to pick up baseball tickets from a Shinnecock member named Charles Steele, a partner in the firm of the famous financier J.P. Morgan. When he arrived, Steele was in a board meeting with Morgan himself, so Thom sent in a note that read: "THE KING OF SHINNECOCK IS WAITING TO SEE MR. STEELE." Thom was then welcomed into the meeting and introduced around. Before he left, Morgan handed him a $20 gold piece, saying, "I don't ever want anyone to say he wasn't paid for the time he spent in conference here."

Charlie Thom, of course, was on hand for that very first Walker Cup Match, played in 1922, at the National Golf Links next door to Shinnecock. Thom could have ably represented either side, but the man who made the biggest splash in the first contest was not even slated as a competitor.

Bernard Darwin, the foremost golf writer of the period, had made one of his rare transatlantic passages to report the maiden Walker Cup Match for The London Times. When the captain of the British squad, Robert Harris, was sidelined by illness, the irrepressible Darwin stepped into the breach and won his singles match.

The British fortunes reached their nadir in 1936. The British squad that year included teenage champion John Langley and another schoolboy star named P.B. "Laddie" Lucas, who was perhaps the handsomest lefthander ever to play the game and in later life a Member of Parliament. Despite this typical effort to inject new blood into its corps of golfing ambassadors, the British were shutout that year at Pine Valley in New Jersey by a score of 9-0.

The English rebounded the very next time around to gain possession of the Walker Cup for the first time at St. Andrews in 1938. The Cup was received amidst general exhiliaration to the lusty strains of "A Wee Deoch and Doris."

The English could not experience true jubilation again, however, until 1971 when the 1938 win at St. Andrews was duplicated. This time the final score was Great Britain and Ireland 13, the United State 9.

Many believed that this year might well turn out to be the era-ending date when the British would summon the supreme effort to vanquish the Americans, which so far they have only been able to do on their native heath. After all, who could blame a British golfer if upon seeing the misty winds careening along the fairways that Willie Dunn laid out on Shinnecock's hills on Long Island, he mistook it for the grizzled links at Musselburgh in the Midlothian, where Dunn was born over a century ago.

Moreover, half of the players on the British team were Scots, while the American team was relatively inexperienced, being the youngest squad the U.S. has fielded since the matches began. The elder statesman for the Americans was Dick Siderowf, a three-time Walker Cupper who has twice won the British Amateur. Siderowf was joined by his three teammates from the World Amateur Team Championship: Bill Sander, Fred Ridley, and John Fought. The other members of the U.S. squad were Mike Brannan, Scott Simpson, Lindy Miller, Vance Heafner, Gary Hallberg and Jay Sigel.

The Walker Cup format is eight single matches in the afternoon and four foursomes in the morning on each of the two days of competition. Each match counts one point, with both sides receiving a point if a match is halved.

On Friday, the first day of play, the British quickly found themselves trailing, 3-1, after losing three of the morning foursomes. The American onslaught continued unabated in the afternoon, as the British could salvage only two of the singles.

Miller, the low amateur in this year's U.S. Open, defeated England's Peter McEvoy two up. Fought and Heafner, the son of former touring pro Clayton Heafner, both won their matches four and three. Simpson, who won back-to-back NCAA golf crowns while playing for USC, closed out former Scottish Amateur Champion Gordon Murray seven and six.

With their backs against the wall on Saturday, the British battled back gamely but there was little doubt about the final outcome. After nine holes, the British were leading in all four of the foursome matches, but Heafner and Fought teamed together to win five holes on the back side while Miller and Simpson won six as both U.S. pairs pulled out victories.

The Americans nowneeded to win only one single to clinch the match. Gary Hallberg did the honors when he hit his second shot to the elevated green on the 15th hole stony for a birdie three that put him four up with three to go.

Moments later, a thunderous ovation went up as Miller snaked in a long putt on the 18th hole--the kind the British call "tram riders--to win one up over Steve Martin.

Siderowf was off his form against Michael Kelley and finally succumbed two and one. Siderowf took an eight on the 6th, Shinnecock's only waterhole, when he drove into the bushes and then stubbed two wedges. He was only one down after 15 but he airmailed his third shot to the par five 16th and had to settle for a half. He went on to lose the 169-yard 17th when he plunked his tee shot into the greenside bunker and failed to extricate himself.

Meanwhile, Fought and Davies were in the midst of a seesaw match with both safely on the 15th green in two. Fought, however, was some 45 feet from the flagstick. Fought rolled in the putt and Davies missed his ten-footer as the American snatched a two and one victory.

Right behind Fought-Davies, Sander was engaged in another potboiler with Brodie, to whom he had lost the day before. With the match all even, this time it was the Britisher who sunk the crucial birdie putt on 15 and Brodie secured his victory by rapping home an eagle putt on the next hole.

The last match that could have gone either way pitted Mike Brannan against Britain's Ian Hutcheon. Hutcheon was a commanding two up after 16 holes but on the 17th he left his tee shot out to the right and caught the bunker that had cost Siderowf so dearly minutes earlier. Three times Hutcheon rained blows down upon the sand and three times the ball failed to budge. He now stood one up.

Both players drove into the middle of the hogsback fairway of Shinnecock's majestic final hole. Hutcheon, though, flew the green badly with his second and was staring at the prospect of a bogey. Faced with a chip that required the touch of a Swiss watchmaker, Hutcheon cooly pitched out of the cloying rough and watched his ball run over 70 feet of green and cascade into the cup. Hutcheon's victory gave the British team its final point of the competition.

As the gallery swarmed toward the clubhouse, the Union Jack was lowered and the President of the United States Golf Association, Harry Easterly, presented the Walker Cup to a beaming American team. "It all started right here 55 years ago," Easterly said, referring to that First Walker Cup Match in Southampton.

Charlie Thom, who was sitting in a golf cart next to Easterly, suddenly learned forward and with a clear County Angus brogue said, "that's r-r-right."

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