If you are looking for omens, how about having an Irishman hoist the Union Jack upside down at the flag-raising ceremony on the eve of the Walker Cup Matches at the most exclusive of all English golf clubs, Royal St. George's? That is what happened to poor Joe Carr last Thursday afternoon, and from that moment on nothing went well for the British, who had entertained serious hopes of getting their second Walker Cup victory in 21 tries but instead came away with their 19th defeat, losing 13-7.
The British were entitled to be optimistic, for their Walker Cup fortunes seemed to be improving, and the manner in which they lost makes one want to give some moody thought to the entire British golf scene. In the 1963 Walker Cup the British had led at the end of the first day. In 1965 they led again and ended up with a tie. Now they were coming into the biennial event with a team weakened by the loss of Clive Clark and Peter Townsend, who had turned professional, but one that had looked excellent in exhaustive trials over Royal St. George's.
By contrast, the Americans had just seen their most noted player, Deane Beman, turn pro five weeks ago, and of their team only 44-year-old Bill Campbell and Downing Gray were familiar with the unusual demands of British golf. As American Captain Jess Sweetser said: "Back home we would never even go out in such terrible weather."
If the Americans don't they ought to, for when play began on Friday they all but ignored a wild westerly gale that swept unchecked across the treeless course, and piled up an insurmountable 8-1 lead. That night, searching for a polite explanation of the big U.S. advantage, Sweetser said the British "appeared to be weaker in the stretch." It was a masterpiece of understatement. The British had been undone by exactly what has destroyed their players, both pro and amateur, for years—-lack of resolution in a crisis, inferior putting and the inability to produce a telling shot when it is urgently needed, a feat the Americans appear to accomplish at will.
For instance, Britain's Ronnie Shade, the world's No. 1 amateur at last year's Eisenhower Trophy meeting in Mexico City, and the Dulwich College schoolboy, Peter Oosterhuis, who is just 19, led all the way from the fourth to the last hole of the top Friday foursome match against Ron Cerrudo and Bob Murphy. But it was the roly-poly Murphy, looking like a fugitive from an English television commercial in his floppy hat, who played the key shot of the match at the 441-yard 18th, a perfect three-wood to the heart of the green.
Seeing this, Shade, for reasons best known to himself, chose a one-iron. The Scotsman had no chance of getting to the green and, in fact, cut the ball weakly into the rough, leaving his young partner an impossible pitch over a bunker. Thus the British lost a match they seemed certain to win, a pattern that became all too familiar before the Walker Cup was officially in American hands again.
On the second day of play there was a flurry of hope when the British won three of the four morning matches, but the top man on the American team, the stylish Campbell, resolved the issue. For the morning foursome match he was paired with Jack Lewis, a 19-year-old history student from Wake Forest who, like our Oosterhuis, plays with all the blissful ignorance of youth. Just when it seemed that Britain might earnestly put the pressure on by making a clean sweep of the morning's play, Campbell floated an immaculate wedge shot from 100 yards out on the 18th hole right to the edge of the cup, giving him and Lewis a 1-up victory. Then in his afternoon singles match against Shade, the tall West Virginian, his swing as smooth and majestic as ever, ran off five consecutive threes to beat the best man on the British team.
If Shade was a disappointment to the British, so was Michael Bonallack, who on the first afternoon was 4 up against Downing Gray at the end of nine holes, and then shot an inexcusable 42 coming home and was fortunate to escape with a tie. With their two top men failing and their feeble finishing in general, the British cause was hopeless.
There is little doubt that the Americans are better strikers of the ball. They also seem able to concentrate on playing the course rather than the man. They were by no means invincible, as is evident from the British performance on the second day when they won three singles and three foursomes, but by then it was too late, and it is also easier to play well when there is nothing to lose. Once again, like the boxer who does his best work in the gym, the British had done theirs in the practice rounds. Carr, the British captain, summed it up when he said, "We had the course and the weather, but we played like fools on Friday. They hit the ball better. We were well beaten." The thing to do at the next Walker Cup, observed England's former golf great, Henry Cotton, is for the Americans to give Britain a 2-up start in every match.
The inability of British amateurs to beat the Americans in a team match such as the Walker Cup is perhaps understandable, but what is more abrasive to national pride and is certainly a related problem is that not since Cotton 20 years ago has Britain been able to produce a professional golfer possessed of the necessary ability, determination and dedication to be ranked among the world's best. This has become so noticeable that when Clive Clark went to Australia for three months of tutoring under Norman Von Nida in 1965, the old Aussie pro greeted him with a firm handshake and said: "Glad to have you. There is only one thing that can keep you from becoming a champion—you are English!"