To the British the Walker Cup has long been the Holy Grail of golf. Since the founding of this U.S.-British competition in 1922 the British have won the cup only once. In some of the matches it has never appeared in their sight. In others, they have gotten only a glimpse of it. But in Turnberry on the Ayrshire coast of west Scotland last week they actually had it, only to have the Americans ruthlessly snatch it away once again. The disappointment, from the British point of view, was more massive than ever, and I suspect a lot of Americans were secretly hoping the British would win too, just to enliven the competition.
Not that those who watched the eight foursome matches and 16 singles matches in the two days of play at Turnberry felt the golf itself could have been any more interesting. Some of the excitement resulted from a change in the format: for the first time the matches were played at 18 holes instead of 36, a length that gave them a fine, sudden-death quality lacking in the past. Some of the excitement was caused by the weather, which got terribly British. And lots of it was caused by the British golfers on Friday afternoon, when they got brilliantly able just as the weather got horribly bad. On Friday morning the British lost two foursome matches in which partners alternate hitting one ball, a form of golf rarely played in America. But that afternoon they ignored the high wind, which does not seem to upset American players, and intense cold, which does, and won six singles matches to go ahead 6-3. The elegant, aging hero of British golf, Dublin's Joe Carr, scored four straight birdies in one stretch as he ignored the gale and defeated Dick Sikes of the U.S. 7 and 5. Yet the best British amateur was Ronnie Shade. He was five under par when he ended his match with American Downing Gray on the 15th hole.
The British players' surprising lead was a feat they may never repeat, and the country made the most of it. "Victory" shrieked headlines in the popular press. "A sight of the promised land" stated the more cautious London Times.
Friday night at the Turnberry Hotel was a raucous babble of liquor and chatter. Black ties bloomed and champagne flowed as members of the British team and their wives twisted to the music of a small combo in the ballroom. The only notable absentees were the Americans, not one of whom was present.
I am a confirmed toucher of wood and noncounter of unhatched chickens and to me the rejoicing was ominously premature. These forebodings were all too swiftly justified. On Saturday morning the wind died down and the temperature went up. Aided by some loose play on the part of the British, the U.S. won all four of the foursome matches. In the afternoon singles it soon became apparent that the rot had set in on the British team to stay. Only Shade, who was two under par after nine and beat Gray once again, played exceptional golf. The Americans were steady. Amateur Champion Labron Harris putted excellently, and slim Charlie Coe, the most experienced U.S. Walker-Cupper, was not to be beaten.
The British might have won back the Walker Cup had they displayed anything like their form of the day before, and certainly would have if they had handled Turnberry with the vigor they had shown in practice matches a month earlier. But the general pattern took shape early. By the time the last match had passed the 6th hole the scoreboards showed the Americans up in six matches, down in one and all square in the other. Not much changed after that. The final score was 12-8 for the U.S. The British were left only with the fervent wish that this year, at least, the matches had ended on that glorious Friday evening.