Amateur golf, which is a sometime thing as far as the interest it generates in this country is concerned, invariably perks up every four years when the Walker Cup match is played on American soil and the atmosphere is invigorated with an international flavor. This past summer, starting with the Walker Cup match at Minikahda (in Minneapolis) the last week in August and continuing after a week's hiatus with the National Amateur at The Country Club (a little bit south of Beacon Street), amateur golf not only perked up, it came surging to life as it seldom has in this country during the last two decades. There were four reasons in the main for this contagious vitality, and let us enter them in the record without further ado.
1) The Minikahda Club. It was the aim of the General Chairman, Totton Heffelfinger, and his aides to stage the Walker Cup meeting with all the care, spirit and implicit importance the match receives when it is played in England, where it is regarded as nothing less than the premier event on the golf calendar. Heffelfinger and Co. succeeded, handsomely. This was far and away the finest cup match ever put on in the United States.
2) The British team. They were the best-trained, most deeply determined and the most team-conscious team to come to this country since the series started 35 years ago. The final score, 8-3, gives no true indication of the closeness of the match. At 3:30 in the afternoon of the second and final day, the day of the eight 36-hole singles matches, the British were ahead in three matches and forging forward in two others, and for the first time ever in America they were in a position where they could actually win. That they didn't was due, among other factors, to one which the British themselves did not mention: on that final Saturday, following a Friday of incessant rain and five previous days of coolish, misty weather, the sun burned down with all its beef, and this surely was enervating for golfers unaccustomed to such heavy heat. The most revealing indication of the quality of this British team came, perhaps, on the first day of play. At three in the afternoon they were down in all four foursomes and falling farther behind. A rout seemed to be on. Not at all. Digging in hard, they tightened up all four matches, won one of them, halved another (which they were unlucky not to win), and so went into the second day trailing not 4-0 but only 2-1.
3) The American team. Every member of the team played well, very well, and in the final analysis they won the match by responding to the pressure with tremendous performances. Quite a few of the American players—Mason Rudolph, for one—graduated in the crucible of the competition into even better golfers than they had been before, and they will be that much better henceforth. Bill Campbell, long incapable of producing his top stuff when he needed it most, did just that, peeling off three birds in five holes at a critical juncture in his battle with Joe Carr and turning the match inside out. The members of the American team went on from this fine performance at Minikahda to shape the Amateur, in its closing stages, into their private tournament. All four semifinalists, Hillman Robbins, Rudolph, Bud Taylor and Rex Baxter, were Walker Cuppers, thus making the men who had selected the American team look like magnificently gifted beings who should be hustled down to Washington immediately and put to work on bigger things.
4) The Country Club. The amateur has been held on several excellent courses since the war, but it is really doubtful if any of them are as ideal for match play as the honored old holes of The Country Club which, with their rugged fairways and their amazing variety of perched, canted and contoured greens, demand shotmaking that is both full-blooded and tidy every step of the way. (If there was any upsetting feature to the week at The Country Club, it was that the corps of British golf writers, whose spectacular conversation in accents mellow and particular usually renders their presence instantly spottable, were frequently mistaken for Country Club members who were simply in from Dedham for the afternoon.)
If any one person won the Walker Cup for the United States—and here I quote the words spoken at the presentation ceremonies by the British captain, Gerald Micklem—"it was that old scoundrel, Billy Joe Patton." Placed in the number one singles spot, Patton drew as his opponent Reid Jack, a 32-year-old stockbroker from Glasgow who won this year's British Amateur and who must be included in any current listing of the world's top four amateurs. A slim, wiry fellow of average height whose hair, like so many Scots, is the color of marmalade, Jack is one of that vanishing breed, the cultivated swinger who has the talent and the competitive turn of nature to keep swinging unhurriedly and well, no matter the strain of the situation.
The Patton-Jack match turned out to be a classic of its kind. Since Billy Joe eventually won it, it must be told in terms of how he accomplished it, but it should be mentioned right here that he did so against a stouthearted opponent who stood firm all the way in the face of a succession of the most spirit-shattering shots imaginable. By winning, Patton not only placed in the American column an important point which the British felt fairly sure of at lunch, but the news of his comeback, filtering across the fairways to his seven teammates playing behind him, must have given them a tremendous boost which helped them immeasurably throughout that torrid and fraying afternoon. And, to say it the other way, there is no knowing the effect the news of Jack's gradual loss of his lead had on his hard-pressed teammates. This, of course, is what the British captain had in mind in saluting "the old scoundrel" as the man who probably had made the difference.
At lunch the old scoundrel from Morganton was a very beleaguered young man. He was five down. Jack had played beautifully. While Patton had not played badly at all, he had left himself a number of four-and five-footers and had blown just about all of them. In the afternoon, though, Billy Joe got off on a very right foot by holing an eight-footer for a birdie to win the 19th. He won the 20th and then the 21st when Jack, trying to do something then and there to halt Billy Joe's rush, tapped two six-footers so firmly that the ball was by the cup before it had taken all of the break on the fast greens. Halves on the next two holes. On the 24th, a stiff one-shotter where the player must carry a wind-blown 180 yards over a pond if he chooses to go for the pin, Patton whacked a five-iron 12 feet past the hole and sank the putt. He was only 1 down now and had obviously played himself into one of those moods (as at the 1954 Masters) where he honestly felt capable of pulling off any shot in the book.
He had a chance to play one on the seventh or 25th. This hole, 432 yards long and shut in by tall trees, doglegs to the right some 200 yards out from the tee. Trying to play a left-to-right drive to conform to the swing of the fairway, Billy Joe cut the shot a shade too much and the ball plummeted down about two yards off the fairway in a very healthy breed of rough. His line to the green, 180 yards away, was stymied by the trunk of a large tree some six feet in front of him and by another tree some 20 feet away. The staggered opening between the trees was a scant two feet, at the widest point. Reid Jack was away, and while Billy Joe surveyed his predicament, Jack played his second, a superb five-iron that finished hole-high about 15 feet to the right. After that shot, there was no alternative for Patton but to try to thread the needle.
"Billy Joe," John Ames, the referee (and the perfect straight man), called over, "is the gallery where you want them?"