The first big cheer of this year's Walker Cup occurred Thursday, two days before the match was scheduled to start. Every member of the U.S. team, gathered on the first tee, applauded the drive by honorary team member George W. Bush.
"Perfect," team captain Jim Holtgrieve said. But the former U.S. president, a typical golfer, said, "I didn't get it all."
What he did get was one of the caps that everyone on the team wore for the practice round Thursday: Maroon with a big blue "W." That was in homage to the history of the Walker Cup amateur golf match, which began in 1922 right where Bush and the players practiced Thursday, at the National Golf Links of America in Southampton.
It is one of the sport's most revered traditions, organized by George Herbert Walker, former president of the U.S. Golf Association, member of the National Golf Links, and great-grandfather to the man who was shooting the breeze with the American golfers Thursday. The "W" in George W. Bush stands for Walker.
"Am I in your way?" Bush said, after he had driven his cart right in front of Jordan Niebrugge's ball.
Team member Todd White, 45, a high school history teacher from Hilton Head Island, S.C., said, "This is almost a walking classroom today. What an incredible experience, to play with President Bush. It's something few people have the opportunity to do."
White is thrilled that the USGA chose him to be part of the squad that will play Britain and Ireland in alternate-shot and singles matches Saturday and Sunday (play begins 7:15 a.m. Saturday, parking is at the Southampton Elks Club lot on Route 27). Each side is composed mainly of college-age players such as Matt Fitzpatrick, 19, of England, the U.S. Amateur champion, but the USGA wanted to add experience. For White it is an American dream.
"I don't think it's going to be until a week later that I'm going to really understand everything that has taken place," he said. "But so far I can tell you that all of the time, effort and hard work that went into making this team has been worth every second."
He will be able to tell his history students about having met a commander in chief. "He's a guy's guy, talking sports, bantering, having a good time out there," White said. "I'll tell you what, he stepped up to the first tee and striped it. No warm-up. I get the feeling he has done this sort of thing one or two times."
There was no talk of politics. The only hint was when a guest told Bush that his wife wishes he still were president. Bush replied, "You can tell her that I don't."