John Harris is a 45-year-old insurance executive from Minnesota
who hits golf balls so straight and is so even-tempered that
fellow members at Edina Country Club call him the Reverend.
Downing Gray, 59, of Pensacola, Fla., is another straitlaced
insurance man. You don't see guys like this shedding tears very
often, but on Sunday afternoon at the 13th green at Quaker Ridge
Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y., Harris and Gray were bawling their
Harris had just clinched a U.S. victory in the 36th Walker Cup,
amateur golf's version of the Ryder Cup, by whipping Michael
Brooks of the Great Britain and Ireland team 6 and 5. The win
was noteworthy for several reasons. In addition to becoming the
first player to score the winning point twice (he also did it in
1993), Harris raised his singles record to 6-0 in three Walker
Cup appearances. Among those who have played four or more
singles matches, the only other player with an unblemished
record is Bobby Jones, at 5-0. More important, the 18-6 U.S.
victory--the second-most-lopsided win ever in the series, which
the U.S. leads 31-4-1--exorcised the demons that had haunted
Harris and Gray, the U.S. captain, since 1995, when their team
was upset 14-10 at Royal Porthcawl in Wales.
"This is the most humbling experience I've ever had in sports,"
said Harris between hugs with Gray and others. "For two years I
poured my blood and guts into this mission, getting back that
Cup. It's so rewarding to feel the fruits of that labor. This is
sweeter, in a way, than when I won the U.S. Amateur [in 1993]
because that was an individual thing. There's nothing to compare
to team golf, and we had a team that became a family."
Team chemistry was the missing ingredient in '95. Before going
to Wales, the Americans spent little time together, and they
seemed to lack focus at Royal Porthcawl. Tiger Woods, for
example, played indifferently, winning two points and losing
two. Gray made sure that this year's team had jelled before the
golfers arrived at Quaker Ridge. Three weeks ago he took the
team to Deepdale Country Club in Manhasset, N.Y., for three days
of ball-striking and bonding. "At lunch the first day we sat
around a table and it felt like a wake," said Gray. "Nobody knew
what to say to whom. But by the time we left, I had 10 guys who
were joined at the hip."
August 17, 1997
The trip paid immediate dividends last weekend. (The event is
played over two days, with four two-man foursomes matches in the
morning followed by eight singles matches in the afternoon. Each
match is worth one point.) On Saturday morning the U.S. took a
4-0 lead and never looked back.
The opening surge was highlighted by the play of one of the
team's veteran pairings, Jerry Courville and Buddy Marucci, who
crushed Brooks and the youngest player in Walker Cup history,
17-year-old Justin Rose, 5 and 4. Courville, 38, the 1995
Mid-Amateur champion, is a systems coordinator for Pitney Bowes
in Connecticut, while Marucci, 45, who lost to Woods in the
final of the '95 U.S. Amateur, is a car salesman in the
Philadelphia area. "Us older guys are proud that we can hold our
own," said Marucci. They did that and then some. Courville,
Harris, Marucci and Duke Delcher, a 41-year-old real estate
agent from Hilton Head, S.C., finished with a combined record of
12-0-1. The team's six collegians--Brad Elder (Texas), Jason
Gore (Pepperdine), Joel Kribel (Stanford), Randy Leen (Indiana),
Steve Scott (Florida) and Chris Wollmann (Ohio State)--were
Great Britain and Ireland rallied in the afternoon singles but
with the score 7 1/2-3 1/2 took a critical blow on the 18th
green in the day's final match, between Harris and Gary
Wolstenholme, who had upset Woods in singles in Wales. All even,
both players reached the 419-yard par-4 in regulation. Putting
first, Wolstenholme left his 35-footer five feet short. After
Harris two-putted, Wolstenholme missed, giving the U.S. an 8
1/2-3 1/2 lead. "That summed up our day," said Barclay Howard,
the 44-year-old Scot who was low amateur in last month's British
Open. "A killer. A real killer."
The Americans didn't let up on Sunday, winning the first three
matches and almost clinching the Cup before NBC began its live
broadcast in the afternoon. By then the only question remaining
was who would earn the winning point. Harris was a fitting
choice. "He must be the world's best amateur," said an admiring
Wolstenholme. "He never gets flustered and always plays within
Harris didn't always have his game under such control. Growing
up, he threw tantrums and tossed clubs but eventually learned
the value of self-discipline from his father, Bob, before
entering Minnesota on a hockey scholarship. Harris earned four
varsity letters in both hockey (the Golden Gophers won the NCAA
title when Harris was a senior in 1974) and golf. After
graduating he tried to make a living first as a hockey player
(he never got out of the minors) and then as a touring pro (he
made it to the PGA Tour in 1976 but earned only $3,055). Harris
soon tired of missing cuts. He quit golf and went into the
family insurance business. "It was that or lose my sanity," he
Harris regained his amateur status in 1983 and is a better
golfer now than he was when he was a pro. With the help of his
son, Chris, who is a sophomore on the Duke team, Harris
developed a short yet powerful swing and superior tempo. He
rises at 5:30 every morning to work out and is in great shape.
Still, he is never satisfied. After teaming with Elder to win a
foursomes match on Sunday morning, Harris said, "I'm frustrated.
I'm not emotionally or physically getting the job done the way I
should be. I guess I've just got very high standards."
If Harris was the heart of the U.S. team, the collegians were
its funny bone. They kept everyone loose by telling jokes at the
nightly team meetings and coming up with nicknames for their
teammates. Marucci was Imelda because he used a contact at
Foot-Joy to get three pairs of shoes for each of the players.
Courville was called Orville, and the 6'2", 220-pound Gore was
tagged the Thin Man. Gray also showed a lighter side. On the way
to the course he always played Clarence Carter's slightly
obscene Strokin' on the team bus, and on Sunday morning he put a
box filled with the remains of the previous night's pizza and
chicken-wing dinner in Gore's locker. "You can't buy chemistry,"
Gore says. "We had it. This weekend I made great friends for
That's how most players feel about the Walker Cup. Even after
they turn pro, those lucky enough to have played in one still
consider it a highlight of their careers. Last Friday the USGA
held a Walker Cup reunion that included a round of golf at
Garden City (N.Y.) Golf Club and a dinner at Winged Foot. About
40 former participants from both sides, including Michael
Bonallack (1959, '61 and '63), Gary Koch (1973 and '75) and
Jerry Pate (1975), attended. On Saturday morning Justin Leonard
(1993), who was playing in the Buick Open, sent a fax
encouraging the U.S. team. That night Woods spent 20 minutes on
the phone giving a pep talk to several of the players.
This year, winning back the Walker Cup clearly was a big deal,
and that was why the end result was a far cry from 1995.