The Ryder Cup, which begins tomorrow outside Chicago, goes by several titles: Golf's greatest rivalry, the real fifth major, the biggest event in golf. In terms of international team competition, it can be called something else: the youngster.
It followed the path and pattern of the Walker Cup, a biennial amateur match that was born on Long Island in 1922 and will return to its original site, the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, next September. Maybe until the 1980s, the Walker Cup was even more prestigious than the Ryder Cup (est. 1927).
The latter has become a television spectacle, but it still feeds off of its older brother. Five members of the current U.S. team at Medinah played in the Walker Cup: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson. So did Europe's Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Luke Donald.
"It's the same feeling," said Curtis Strange, who played for the winning U.S. Walker Cup team in 1975, then played in five Ryder Cups and was the U.S. captain in 2002. The two-time U.S. Open winner will do analysis tomorrow on ESPN. "You were doing things you don't ordinarily do in golf. You had that same pressure to do well and hold up your part."
In all likelihood, fans who show up for the 2013 Walker Cup at the National will be seeing future major champions. The last time the match was held on Long Island, at Shinnecock Hills in 1977, the Americans beat Great Britain and Ireland, 16-8, with a strong effort from Scott Simpson, who would win the U.S. Open 10 years later. The opposition was led by Sandy Lyle, who went on to win the Masters and British Open (at Shinnecock, he lost in singles to Fred Ridley, now the chairman of competition at the Masters).
At the time, Simpson, a two-time NCAA champion at USC, called the Walker Cup, "the most important thing in amateur golf." It sure seemed huge to an elite membership that was used to being served, not serving.
"Various jobs had to be done. One member was in charge of bath towels in the locker room. Someone else was in charge of the bar room upstairs," said David Huschle of Shelter Island, who was Shinnecock's clubhouse manager back then.
"The American players, boy, they were doing pushups and taking vitamins," he said. "The Brits were out all night, all over town. Everything was on the house for them, so they were out at Herb McCarthy's and the Coach House."
Shinnecock's greens were fast, judging from the readings on "something called a stimp meter," according to a 1977 newspaper account.
Simpson had just married his high school sweetheart, Cheryl, six days earlier and spoke about going to the PGA Tour qualifying school, adding, "Hopefully, she'll never have to go to work." Although the U.S. won in a rout, his teammates said Simpson made an important trend-setting putt of the week -- a 36-footer for par 3 on No. 17 in an opening round foursomes match.
To this day, in his official Champions Tour profile, Simpson lists Shinnecock Hills as one of his favorite courses.
Shinnecock can look back at the Walker Cup as one of its favorite events. "It was a remarkable experience," said Huschle, who is retired. "Because it went so well, some of the members said, 'Gee, if we can do this, why not the U.S. Open?' "