ABERDEEN, Scotland (Sept. 10, 2011) -- The Walker Cup officially teed off in a light Aberdeen rain at 09:00 GMT. Not much more than 5 minutes later, and the first ball of the day in the GB&I opening foursomes pairing of Tom Lewis and Michael Stewart was lost in the gorse. Here are a few early observations:
No disrespect to the Ryder Cup, that larger-than-life media phenomenon, but the Walker Cup is as good as it gets for competitive golf. Even in Scotland, where the heaviest rain doesn't drive golfers away from the course, the number of fans is reasonable enough that you can get up close and personal with players like Peter Uihlein, Patrick Cantlay, Russell Henley, and Tom Lewis (who will turn pro immediately after the event) that will be the stars of the game in the future. The "ropes" are moved after players hit their approach shots in a way that allows for closer access, similar to the way the PGA Tour was watched in a time gone by. USA Captain Jim Holtrgrieve summed it up this way:
"It's the founding of team play. Obviously the Ryder Cup came out of the Walker Cup. Walker Cup was born first. It was born for the right reason, to bring friendship and build relationships between two continents after World War I."
The First Tee Shot - It's Scary:
The first hole at Royal Aberdeen plays straight downhill with a postcard view (if you could see it through the fog) of the North Sea behind the green. There are three pot bunkers on the right side of the sliver of a fairway, and deep rough and gorse on the left. In both the first match (Peter Uihlein and Harris English of USA vs. Tom Lewis and Michael Stewart of GB&I) the American side (with the honor as visitors) hit iron on the 413-yard downhill par 4, while their counterparts used driver. After Peter Uihlein split the fairway with a long iron, leaving an easy shot to the green for his partner English, Lewis pulled his driver into the gorse and ended up going back to the tee after a 5-minute search. I must say, it's strange watching one of the best amateurs in the world search for a lost ball. He had lots of help, but no ball. Kelly Kraft also chose an iron to lead off in the second match, but so much for safety -- he also ended up losing his ball in the same gorse bush as Lewis while Andy Sullivan, teeing off with driver for GB&I, came very close to doing the same but found his in the deep rough after two minutes of searching.
9/11 Anniversary on Sunday:
USA Captain Jim Holgrieve downplayed the effect on his team, and let's face it these guys are able to tune everything out when they are in the heat of battle. The USA team has multiple players that have played U.S. Opens (some more than one) and two Nationwide Tour winners in 2011. But Holtgrieve does not downplay the significance of the anniversary. He had commemorative hats made for the team (and some of his friends that were effected by the tragic event) that they will break out on Sunday, after being read letters from Presidents Bush and Obama. That should stir emotions regardless of how the match stands.
Not sooner than 5 minutes after walking into the Media Center, I asked the first guy I saw if he could check me in. It turns out he was from the BBC (sorry 'bout that!) but my gaffe worked out well. He asked me to be interviewed on live radio to give the American perspective including on the Anniversary of 9/11. If you're interested in hearing it you can send me an email at amateurgolf1 (at sign) yahoo.com.
Morning Match Notes:
With Lewis and Stewart 2-up, things looked good for Uihlein and English when Uihlein hit a beautiful "close legs" knockdown to 25 feet left of the pin. Lewis missed the green left, but his partner closed things out by hitting a deft little pitch off a tight lie to the elevated green, stopping it within inches of the hole.
Russell Henley found himself with an up-and-in for a likely win, with his and Kelly Kraft's opponents left with 40 feet for par after a blocked tee shot right. Henley was disgusted with the effort on his chip, which he slightly bladed to 12 feet. Even Kelly Kraft's beautiful stroke couldn't save the day. Another 3-and-1 loss for the Americans to Jack Senior and Andy Sullivan (Sully to his fans). Senior's brother is off the bag this afternoon -- one of his teammates who is sitting out will do the honors.
This one was an easy with for the GB&I team of Paul Cutler and Andy Dunbar, 5-and-4 over Nathan Smith (the team's elder statesman) and Blayne Barber. Breaking up 2009 teammates Smith and Uihlein didn't work out as planned this morning.
Although they had no foursomes experience (and I mean none) Chris Williams (one of this summer's most successful amateurs) and partner Patrick Cantlay easily defeated Stiggy Hodgson and Steven Brown, 5-and-3.
An Unscheduled Press Conference After the A.M. Matches:
I heard chatter in the Media Center about a "bit of a row" between the GB&I and USA teams. I figured it was a rules question and lo and behold, the next thing you know we have an unscheduled press conference with the CEO of the R&A, Peter Dawson. It seems that there is a "Condition of Competition" in the Walker Cup that prohibits a player from using a professional golfer as their caddie. Jack Senior's brother -- as was noted by a member of the media who recognized him -- is a professional. The U.S. Amateur, where Senior played so well, has no such condition and his brother was there with him. But at the Walker Cup, the condition exists and had Senior read the two page Conditions sheet, that particular rule would have stood out like a sore thumb.
Since Senior made no attempt to knowingly violate the rule and keep it from his opposition, and the fact about his brother wasn't brought to life until after the result of the match was announced, (Senior and Sullivan defeated Henley and Kraft 3-and-1) the result stands. (Rule 2-1 if you're interested.) Mr. Dawson said that both parties were happy with the result, and that it fit in with the "ethos" of the competition. But when I asked him how long the Conditions were, R&A Rules Director David Rickman just shook his head and said "I know." But since all parties were agreeable, it seems it wasn't a "row" (pronounced like wow for Americans) after all.
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