Practically everyone in amateur golf has come to understand that the biennial Walker Cup, born in 1921 to stimulate international competition and foster goodwill between the United States and Great Britain, has in reality become nothing so much as a chalice from which Americans drink heaping portions of ego juice every two years. Unlike a few of our other foreign escapades, the good old U.S. of A. does the kicking around in the Walker Cup.
What always happens is that the British come over to the States for a few days, take off their sweaters and get the tea beat out of them. Two years later, our guys go to Britain, put on rain parkas, unfurl the umbrellas and beat the British again. It is an adventure in yawning. You know, awfully good show and all that. Until last week American teams had lost only once in half a century of cup competition, and nothing blowing in the heather of St. Andrews indicated that this year's outcome would be any different. A U.S. team member said sadly, "The Walker Cup should be the biggest thing in amateur golf but, let's face it, nobody cares. I guess we just win too much."
Somebody cared this time. What happened Wednesday and Thursday was exhilarating golf competition that caused, as one St. Andrews man said, anguish, excitement and nervous exhaustion. The British underdogs came spectacularly from behind late in the second day to win six of eight singles matches and their first Walker Cup since 1938. Three newcomers to cup competition—a doughy-faced Scot, Hugh Stuart and two fearless young stylists, Roddy Carr and Warren Humphreys—carried the fight. Stuart, an insurance inspector from Ayr, and Carr, the son of Ireland's former Cupper, Joe Carr, went unbeaten in singles and combined for their side's only foursomes' victory on Thursday. Humphreys, a tousle-haired 19-year-old with sparkling teeth and a look remindful of Bobby Sherman, the teen dream singer, edged America's powerful Steve Melnyk in a crucial singles match on the final day.
It would be wrong to say the British were without optimism before the matches. They knew that the USGA had an unusually difficult time picking this year's team, that Hell Bunker, the Principal's Nose and the other little potholes John Farquhar of the U.S. called "grenade pits" would take their toll and that the weather would inevitably deteriorate to standards favorable to the British: rainy, cold and miserable.
June 6, 1971
"Technically we are as good as the Americans," said John Jacobs, the distinguished British golf teacher. Michael Bonallack, the British captain, also liked his chances. "I've never known a more balanced British side," he said.
In that spirit the challengers swept the alternate-shot foursomes Wednesday morning to give Britain a 4-0 lead, the first time that had ever happened in Walker Cup play. Young Humphreys played beautifully despite what he called "the shakies" to carry Bonallack to a 1-up victory, and Carr and Charlie Green defeated the top American pair, Melnyk and Vinny Giles, by the same score.
In the afternoon, not 15 minutes after the final singles matches were off the tee, a day that had begun clear and sunny turned into porridge. The green dunes of the Old Course were whipped by the changing winds off St. Andrews Bay, and the rain poured down. Paradoxically, the American fortunes immediately perked up, especially at the 466-yard 17th—the famous Road Hole.
No. 17 takes no prisoners. Green, a Scot from Dumbarton who distributes Ballantine's Scotch and, it is said, drinks a wee bit o' it, too, hit short there and lost his match to Lanny Wadkins. Allen Miller of the U.S. ran in a 14-foot putt to beat Geoffrey Marks. And in between came Giles, who hit over the green in three, then chipped from an impossible lie off a gravel path and stood in shock as the ball took one bounce, hit the pin and—that's all, folks—dropped in the cup for a stunning par. Bonallack hurled his own ball to the ground in despair and, when he respotted it on the green, missed a five-footer and lost 1 up. Melnyk finished off his opponent before 17, and only Farquhar (beaten by Stuart) and veteran Bill Hyndman (who halved with the stubborn Carr) lost points in the singles. The United States had taken the lead 6½ to 5½.
Giles was speechless about the shot that won his singles match. "What can I say?" he asked. "I was dead." "We're O.K. now," said Melnyk that night over dinner. "I'd say we'll win at least nine of the 12 points tomorrow."
Thursday morning thousands of Scots—including bicyclists, babies in carriages and uncounted leashed hounds—turned out to watch another British defeat. The Americans won two of the foursomes—one when Miller topped a ball that skipped over the burn onto the green anyway, leaving Farquhar with a 70-foot putt that he dropped for a birdie. Still, Britain halved one match, and a 1-up victory by Carr and Stuart sent them to the afternoon singles behind only 9 points to 7.
The U.S. remained unworried. It needed only 3½ more points (three wins and a half) for victory.
In the first match Wadkins—cheered on by a planeload of yellow-hatted supporters who flew all the way from Winston-Salem, N.C.—played overpowering two-under-par golf as he beat Bonallack 3 and 1. His match was over long before anything else was settled, but behind him the U.S. was in deep trouble. Only young Tom Kite from Texas had his match well in hand for a sure second point. Giles, Miller, Hyndman and Jim Simons were all losing, Jim Gabrielsen was barely hanging on and Melnyk was unable to shake Humphreys.
As Stuart closed out Giles on 17, the Melnyk-Humphreys duel turned into a classic. Big Steve drove the green at the 312-yard 12th but three-putted. On 14, just after a squall raced across the course, Humphreys dropped a 40-foot putt; Melnyk covered it with a 15-footer to remain even. At 15 Humphreys dropped a 45-footer. Melnyk faltered. One down. At 16 Melnyk wedged from 90 yards to within inches for a half, and they came to 17 with Melnyk still 1 down. He had an eight-iron to the green, but he left it short behind a bunker and had a delicate wedge left. Humphreys calmly chipped his third shot to five feet. Melnyk, gambling now, couldn't get his soft wedge over the bank; the ball fell back into the sand, and Humphreys, his teeth going wild, was the winner, 2 and 1.
The British, behind now by only two points, kept coming. Miller caught Green at 17 but then bladed his approach over the 18th and lost 1 up. Simons, playing Carr, also won the 17th, but he was still 1 down, and the Irishman knocked in a 30-foot putt on 18 to make sure of his victory.
With the matches tied, it was left to Hyndman, who had got even with David Marsh, and Gabrielsen, also even with George Macgregor, to retain the cup. But Marsh never wilted, and when Hyndman hit into Wig Bunker, cutting into the 16th green, the 37-year-old English doctor was ahead to stay. Moments later Gabrielsen hit a long iron that curled nicely onto the 17th green, then teased along the edge before falling off short behind a bunker. With almost the same shot that Melnyk had been faced with earlier, Gabrielsen got his ball over the bunker all right and up to the pin, but the ball kept going, across and off the green, through the high grass and onto the gravel path. Now he was faced with duplicating Giles" earlier shot, but he could not pull it off, and Macgregor won the hole with bogey and held his lead till the end. Hyndman and Marsh had yet to finish, but Hyndman could not win, and when he conceded a short putt to Marsh at the 17th, the Walker Cup was gone.
Bonallack, who had paced the 18th tee all this time watching with fists clenched, wept openly at the presentation ceremonies and said his team won "in spite of their captain." They did that, but over the years they had learned from him the meaning of spirit and tenacity, and he should be proud.
"I'm always a bit trembly in these affairs," said the new idol, Humphreys, who played with Nicklaus at the British Open last year. "I never looked at Jack on his drives and I never looked at Steve Melnyk, either." Last week changed all of that. From now on the Walker Cuppers from Great Britain can look anyone in the eye.