The Argentine heat was oppressive, the chickweed in the greens made putts run as fast and crooked as a West Virginia rabbit, and the best professionals from 33 other countries played some stirring golf, but nothing was about to keep the U.S. from winning the 10th annual Canada Cup golf match last week. By Sunday night Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer, representing the U.S. in the world tournament on the famous Jockey Club course in Buenos Aires, had turned in a solid victory that made it clear this country has no peer in world golf and is not likely to have one for a long, long time. Their success was significant, for it was only four years ago that U.S. superiority was being threatened from every quarter of the golfing globe. But now the American golfers are as firmly entrenched at the top as the Kennedy family.
When Palmer and Snead won the huge, golden Canada Cup with a 72-hole total of 557, it was only the latest in a growing pile of international golf trophies that the country recently has claimed. The two previous Canada Cup matches went to the U.S., as did the last two World Amateur Team Championships, the last two Ryder Cup matches ( U.S. vs. British pros), the last two Curtis Cup matches ( U.S. vs. British women amateurs) and every Walker Cup match ( U.S. vs. British male amateurs) since Noah's ark ran aground. The fact is that there is not a golf course in the world that a large swarm of U.S. golfers cannot play better than anyone else in the game.
"That's the absolute truth, and it's getting to be more so all the time," said Scotland's Eric Brown, who has played in eight Canada Cup matches and made three brief forays into the American pro circuit. Illness had forced him out of this year's Canada Cup tournament, and he was in a somberly reflective mood as he rested in his downtown Buenos Aires hotel room.
"It's not just that you've got more golfers. It's also that you've got such a wide variety of courses. Take the start of the winter tour, for instance. First they play on that hilly course in Los Angeles, then it's down to that flat, hard one in San Diego. Then up to Pebble Beach, a windy seaside course just like most of ours, and down to Phoenix, where you play in the desert. All in six weeks. Our folks at home are always saying of the Americans, 'Wait till they have to play in some of our wind.' Well, I'll tell you, the Americans have bloody well learned to play in the wind better than we have. We've only got two kinds of courses in Great Britain, seaside and inland. When we go abroad to play we're on courses the likes of which we've never seen before."
"I've got to agree," says South Africa's Gary Player, who has become one of the world's best golfers through much that he learned on the U.S. circuit. "You encounter so many kinds of courses in the States, and so many good ones. The greens are softer, too, and you learn to move the ball from right to left and left to right. The British Commonwealth golfers can't maneuver the ball at all. They can only hit it straight. Their greens are hard, and they've gotten so used to running the ball into the center of the green that they can't play any other kind of shot. I tell you it's a real education to play in the States. There are a lot of good golfers outside America, but they're not giving themselves a chance to become really great. Why, it's like trying to be President of the U.S. without ever going to high school. It can't be done."
"We are playing target golf while the rest of the world is going for pars," explains Sam Snead. "When I played Henry Cotton in the Ryder Cup matches in Portland in 1947 the course was real soft and mushy. I was just hitting everything right at that flag and sticking it in real close. He was trying to, but he just couldn't persuade himself to do it. He was leaving himself 30, 40 feet short on every hole, and I skinned him pretty good."
It was Dai Rees of Wales who summed up this international assessment of U.S. golfers. "You Americans play one week in Los Angeles and the next week in New York," he said. "You learn not only to adapt to courses but to adapt to travel as well. When you come into a strange country and a strange course like this one, you've usually seen something like it before. You're not likely to get as upset as the rest of us."
These off-course judgments were borne out in Buenos Aires last week.
Sam Snead, the 50-year-old West Virginia hillbilly, who was defending his individual Canada Cup title, dropped into the midst of this pungent, dusty and shabbily picturesque Old World type of city with the calm purpose of a man going across the street for a pack of cigarettes. Now, the legendary Snead can be as fidgety as an expectant father if he feels that his nerves or his energies are being overtaxed. He likes to hunt, fish and play golf and is not—however wide his travels may be—at all city-oriented.
"When I go to one of these here foreign places," he says in a low voice that sounds as if it were emerging from a mouth full of marbles, "I don't see much of anything but the hotel, the taxi and the golf course. I guess I just don't like cities much anyway."