This would be a
good time to dust the trophy case. Having already lost the Ryder Cup and the
Curtis Cup, the United States last week made it a clean sweep in international
competition by losing the Walker Cup, the most prestigious team trophy in men's
amateur golf. "If it's any comfort," Geoffrey Marks, the captain of the
victorious Great Britain and Ireland team, told the vanquished U.S. side after
last Thursday's gut-wrenching finish, "this victory has done a tremendous
amount of good not only for British golf but for the Walker Cup
Jay Sigel, for
one, was not comforted. The 45-year-old two-time U.S. Amateur champion, who had
just played in his seventh Walker Cup and had anchored the singles matches on
both days of the competition, was left wondering how he could have failed to
beat a bashful Scottish carpenter who builds "portacabins."
Coming a mere two
years after a lopsided American victory at Sunningdale in Berkshire, England,
the 12�-11� defeat of the U.S. caught even the victors by surprise. The
biennial match-play competition between a team from the U.S. and one from Great
Britain and Ireland has been dominated by the U.S. since it began. In the 31
previous meetings, the U.S. had lost only twice and never on home soil. This
year's site, Atlanta's Peachtree Golf Club—which was founded in 1947 by Bobby
Jones, whose own Walker Cup career began with the first match in 1922—figured
to be especially inhospitable to the visitors. With the oppressive Georgia
humidity—-"Just look at how my shirt has changed colors," England's
Peter McEvoy marveled after two sticky rounds on Wednesday—the sweater-loving
British and Irish were supposed to melt.
humbled their hosts.
The format calls
for two days of play, with two-man teams competing in four foursomes on both
mornings, followed by eight singles matches in the afternoons. A match is worth
one point, and if the score is even after 18 holes, each side earns half a
36-year-old, two-time British Amateur champion McEvoy and 21-year-old Eoghan
O'Connell of Killarney, Ireland, the British and Irish took a 2�-1� lead after
the Wednesday morning foursomes. McEvoy and O'Connell blew away Sigel and Greg
Lesher, 6 and 5. It got worse in the afternoon singles: The visitors won four
matches and gained two halves, to lead 7�-4�. Fred Ridley, the U.S. captain,
smiled wanly and borrowed a line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:
"Who are those guys?"
It didn't take
long to put the faces and the names together. The big, beefy youth who looks
like Jack Nicklaus in his "Fat Jack" days? That's Russell Claydon, who,
despite a comical short swing, was low amateur at this year's British Open and
finished second to Greg Norman in the 1989 Australian Masters. The baby-faced
O'Connell? He was the 1984 Irish Boys' champion and will be a senior at Wake
Forest this fall. The little fellow with the round face and red mustache who
looks as if he stepped out of an Andy Capp comic strip? That's McEvoy, playing
in his fifth Walker Cup.
license number of the truck that hit you, however, doesn't heal the injury, and
the Americans went under the wheels in Thursday's foursomes, which the British
and Irish took 3� to�. With eight singles remaining, the visitors led 11-5,
needing only 1� points to clinch. "I like their chances," said Ridley
during the lunch break, all but conceding. "They whupped us."
But a string of
reversals in the afternoon turned several matches the American way. Early on,
three matches were even, with the U.S. leading the other five. Then it was two
even and the U.S. leading six; then one and seven. When University of Arizona
All-America Robert Gamez won the 15th hole in the first match, the Americans
led all eight matches and the impossible seemed, for a few moments, possible.
Gamez, who plans to skip his senior year to turn pro, started the American
point rush by slamming in a 25-foot birdie putt from off the green on 18 to
beat Stephen Dodd, the current British Amateur champion, one up. Minutes later,
Andrew Hare, a 22-year-old assistant manager of a mobile home park in England,
drew his team within a point of victory by halving his match with University of
Oklahoma All-America Doug Martin. Six matches were still under way, and five
seemed to be sure wins for the Americans.
That increased the
pressure on two youngsters: O'Connell and Phil Mickelson, the Arizona State
lefthander who won this year's NCAA championship as a freshman.