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.
September 29, 1957
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?"
"They're jest farn where they are," Patton answered with a smile. "Now you folks," he added with all the poise of Sir Laurence Olivier as he turned his attention to the spectators jammed in the rough in a long line parallel to the intended flight of his ball, "you jest stand where you are. Everything's under control. Have confidence in me."
Hooding his four-iron to keep the ball under the overhanging limbs, Patton eyed his narrow opening, quieted himself over the ball, swept the club back with golf's fastest backswing...and almost before you realized that the ball had been struck, it had shot the gap cleanly and was buzzing on a low line right for the green. It bounded onto the green but had just a little too much legs and rolled on over to end up a yard or so in the rough behind the green.
How that Patton wears you out! First he all but canceled out his remarkable recovery by fluffing his chip barely onto the green. Then he holed the 20-footer he had left himself. When Reid Jack missed his try for his bird, Patton had scrambled a turbulent half and was once more in a position to force his counterattack.
Here are just a few of the routines which golf's most talented (and practiced) escape artist came up with from that point on:
On the 27th, 510 yards, most of them uphill, he reached the green with two great woods. His birdie squared the match. (He was out in 32.)
On the 30th, a medium-length par 4, Jack hit a fine drive, another wonderful iron about eight feet from the hole, just missed his putt. Patton pushed his drive into the trees, manufactured a recovery into the rough in the vicinity of the green, chipped to four feet and sank the putt. On the card: two 4s. Match still square.
A deeper draught of the same bitter mixture for Jack on the 31st. The Scot seemed in a position to go out in front again on the 536-yard par 5 when two good woods placed him about 10 yards short of the green. Billy Joe, having crisscrossed the fairway twice with a pulled tee-shot and a faded if prodigious iron, was playing three from a slippery downhill lie in the wooded rough 40 yards to the right of the pin. It was Jack who needed three to get down and Patton only two, for Billy Joe played a lovely running pitch that took the roll of the green perfectly and died 18 inches from the stick. Patton, 1 up, ahead for the first time.
On the 34th, still holding a one-hole lead after losing the 32nd and taking the 33rd, Billy Joe again hooked his drive deep into the rough. The task confronting him was to slash his ball out in such a way that it would start off low enough to stay under the branches of the trees surrounding him and still get up quickly enough to clear the tops of the tall trees which, from his novel avenue of approach, blocked the way to the crown green on this 407-yard 4. Well, that's just what the man did, except that he not only hit the green, he dropped the ball 10 feet from the hole. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Jack had played a fine five-iron from the center of the fairway to within nine feet of the hole. There is such a thing as justice in this world and here, I think it was done. Patton's try for his birdie trickled an inch or so below the cup, and Jack holed his, his ball kissing off Patton's (which he left for just such a contingency) and ralling in. Match square again.
And there was no doubt that justice was done on the 35th where the match was decided. As usual a bit shorter and considerably straighter than Patton, Jack elected to play a nine-iron for his second on this drive-and-pitch 4 where the large green sits about five feet above a long trap that guards it the full width of its front entrance. The pin was set up front about 18 thin feet beyond the trap. Knowing he had to be up above everything else, Jack hit too full a shot; it finished well past the pin, about 55 feet past. Patton's shot now. Standing in the edge of the rough about 100 yards out, he punched a low wedge that came down softly on the front porch of the green and stopped 12 feet to the left of the cup. Billy Joe did not make that putt but it was the match anyway, for Jack rimmed the cup from eight feet on his all-important second putt. On the 355-yard 36th Billy Joe had his par all the way, and Jack could do no better. Patton, 1 up.
Patton and Jack both made their exits rather early in the Amateur, Pat-ton losing in the second round after he had spent more time in the woods than Thoreau, Jack having the bad luck to run up against another hot opponent who was out in 32. By Thursday afternoon when the voluminous field had pared itself down to the eight quarter-finalists, so much had happened so rapidly that the many brilliant personal exploits of the first three days seemed as remote as ancient history. That is the way it always is in the Amateur. The round of eight, though, will be long remembered, I think, for in the opinion of old and calloused golf hands it was the finest quarter-finals the National Amateur has ever produced, both in the uniformly high caliber of the golfers who reached it and the first-class golf they shot at each other in all four matches—Bud Taylor vs. Gene Andrews, Mason Rudolph vs. Dick Yost, Hillman Robbins vs. Dick Chapman, and Rex Baxter vs. Phil Rodgers.
The Country Club course is so laid out that with a little bit of luck and a little bit of footwork, a spectator can watch the action taking place on the four finishing holes: the 425-yard 15th; the 170-yard 16th; the 370-yard 17th which doglegs to the left; and the famous old 18th, 410 yards to the plateaued green beneath the lofty elms. As you dashed back and forth on the afternoon of the quarters, trying to keep an eye on all four matches, putts were toppling into the cups from all over the greens and you had barely digested one phenomenal stroke when you were jolted by another. In the first match Andrews holed a good-size putt on the 16th to become only one down to Taylor, but the latter wrapped things up by rolling in one from 15 feet for a 3 on the 18th. Down the 18th a few minutes later came Rudolph and Yost, Rudolph 1 up and in a seemingly invulnerable position when he was on in two with Yost snagged in the rough behind the elms on the right. But Yost dropped a 20-footer for his 4, and when Rudolph took three putts—extra holes. On the 19th, Rudolph made up for this previous generosity by holing from seven feet for a winning birdie. In the third match, with Robbins 1 up and three to play, same thing: Robbins banged in a beautiful putt for his bird on the 16th and closed Chapman out by sticking his approach on the next hole four feet past the hole. And then came Baxter and Rodgers to top off this whole incredible sequence. On the 17th, Rodgers, 1 down, rolled in one that must have been all of 65 feet, downhill. Baxter took a deep breath and holed his 17-footer to halve the hole in 3s. On the home green, young Rodgers had to get a 20-footer for a birdie to keep the match alive—and did so. He got his scrambling half on the first extra-hole with a 6-footer. On the 20th an 8-footer stood between Baxter and defeat, and he put it in. On the 21st, just when it seemed that this might go on indefinitely, Rodgers finally went when he mishit his second into the rough and needed three to get down, even as you and I.
A brief word about the two finalists, Bud Taylor, the runner-up, and Hill-man Robbins, the new champion. Dr. Taylor, the Pomona dentist, is, both as a person and a golfer, one of the pleasantest additions the national golfing scene has had in years, and it is to be hoped that in the summers to come the young Pomonese school children will be considerate enough to have their teeth fixed in August so that the good doctor will be in a position to take off for the Amateur in perfect conscience. Robbins, the young Tennessean, is a modest, soft-spoken fellow, so slim and so angular that, when he lopes down the fairway, he gives you the impression he is a country lad cutting across the course on his way to the hills to hunt some squirrel. Two short weeks before his victory in the Amateur, Hillman was a most disconsolate young man, feeling way down in the mouth after losing his singles in the Walker Cup. He played with great determination at The Country Club, and whenever he had to make a key shot, he invariably came through with a wonderful shot. He is a most deserving champion.
And a final word about the British _ who were the yeast of this three weeks' leavening of flavorful golf. It is a pity that the hard economics of the situation are such that the Walker Cup cannot be scheduled as an annual event, for that would assure our having the match over here (plus an international field in the Amateur) every two years instead of every four. The British brought some solid players this time—the next cup match, at Muirfield in 1959, will be a real struggle—and as usual they brought their keen appreciation of friendly competition and their ready humor. A hundred pleasant episodes come to mind, among them a singularly British interchange that took place at the Walker Cup flag-raising ceremony. As you know, it is an ancient and imperishable custom among the British to fasten weird nicknames on their friends when they are boys together at school, and no matter if the friend later rises to a cabinet post or an army command, those many years later he is still "Wink Eye" or "Muffin" or whatever it was to the old crowd. At Minikahda, in a truly impressive ceremony complete with military band and color guard, the flags of the two nations were raised, the two teams introduced, and the chairman of the Championship Committee of the Royal & Ancient, a handsome, silver-haired gentleman, was then asked to say a few words, which he did impeccably. As the silver-haired man sat down to a round of applause, two Britishers in the crowd beamed proudly at each other. "Never heard the old Bog Rat speak better," said one of them. "Absolutely," agreed his companion, "top form."
The most sensational recovery artist since the palmy (not to mention oaky, elmy, and piney) days of Walter Hagen, Billy Joe Patton produced one of his most amazing shots ever in his Walker Cup duel with Reid Jack. On the 432-yard 7th at Minikahda, with only the narrowest of openings between two trees, Billy Joe threaded the needle.