In this, the summer of his glory, Scott Verplank is so much the boy king of amateur golf that last week, as he led the U.S. to a 13-11 victory over Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup, he accomplished the near impossible. He took Pine Valley Golf Club and its canonized acres of scrub pine and sand, wild cactus, lakes and heavy forest and reduced it to mere mythic proportions, forcing it to share the spotlight. Pine Valley and Scott Verplank—a tough combination.
Pine Valley opened in 1921, so it has been around a bit longer than Verplank, who is only 21 and fresh from his startling victory in the Western Open last month; he was the first amateur to win a PGA event in 31 years. Most golfers regard Pine Valley as a shrine, the most difficult test in the world, although the club is so exclusive that it is incorporated as a borough. It is hidden away in a remote part of New Jersey, about 20 miles from Philadelphia, and it engenders such affection that no one thinks it strange that on the arm of its superintendent, Dick Bator, is a tattoo of the 1st hole.
Babe Ruth occasionally played Pine Valley, and once, while he thrashed about in thick woods, a friend tried to give him a fix on the green. "Hell, I don't need to know where the green is," yelled Ruth. "Where is the golf course?"
The club is renowned for such anecdotes of misery—as well as the comment of former British Walker Cupper Edward F. Storey, who once toured the 1st hole silently, then walked up to the 2nd tee, gazed out at a rising vista of emerald laced with brown scrubland, all flanked with tall pines, and said to his hosts, "Tell me, do you chaps actually play this hole, or do you just photograph it?"
Every 50 years or so, Pine Valley plays host to a golf tournament. The first, and only one before last week, was in 1936. It also was the Walker Cup. Over the years the U.S. had built a 26-2 lead in the series, with one tie. Given that stat, and facing a Yank team that not only boasted Verplank and a herd of other talented youngsters but also had three old-timers—playing captain Jay Sigel, Bob Lewis and Randy Sonnier—who had plenty of experience wooing Pine Valley, it's a wonder the foreigners dared even hope to win. Yet at the end of the first day, the matches were tied 6-6. Despite this, the Brits' captain, Charlie Green, was beside himself with worry. Green is 52, a Scotsman and a five-time Walker Cupper. "Ayyyy, Pain Valley," he kept saying.
Green's worry was well founded, for the U.S. took control in Thursday morning's foursomes, winning three matches and just missing a shutout when Paul Mayo sank a curling, downhill eight-footer on the 18th to salvage a half against Verplank-Sigel. That meant the U.S. needed only three points in the afternoon singles to be assured of another victory.
It was Verplank who nailed it down. He had turned one-down against Colin Montgomerie, but drew even with a six-foot birdie putt on the 12th. The players exchanged bogeys on the next two holes before Verplank took the lead for good by sinking or, more accurately, barely nudging a four-foot, downhill par putt into the cup on the 15th. Verplank then parred in for a 69 and a one-up win. "I had nine other guys depending on me today," said Verplank. With two singles victories and a win and a tie in the foursomes, he was the Cup's top point-winner. Heck of a golfer; heck of a course.