For the first time in 91 years, members of a U.S. Walker Cup team walked the fairways of the National Golf Links of America, the vintage Southampton club at which the Walker Cup was born. For that matter, the whole concept of team golf competition also was born on those grounds in 1922, when Bobby Jones, Francis Ouimet and Chick Evans played.
The international amateur match will be back at the National for the first time since then Sept. 7-8, which was why the American team was there Thursday for its first practice round. Several golfers arrived on Long Island early, and played a few holes Wednesday evening.
"One guy said to me last night, 'It was kind of eerie, Captain, walking where those guys walked. You can almost feel them,' " said Jim Holtgrieve, the U.S. captain who played on three winning Walker Cup teams. "So some guys are starting to get it already. By the time we get to Saturday morning at the Walker Cup, I think they'll all get it and I think we'll all be on the same page."
That page says the Walker Cup is bigger than anything else in amateur golf. It might also say that the Walker Cup is the amateur version of the Ryder Cup, which is arguably the most exciting event in golf (and which will come to Long Island in 2024). But that would be getting it backward, in Holtgrieve's view. As he pointed out in the National's clubhouse Thursday, the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup and other team events were spawned by the Walker Cup, not the other way around.
So there was resolve during the informal practice session in which the 10 players went out in a pair of fivesomes.
Nathan Smith, 35, said, "This is definitely a team I wanted to make. It's everything: the camaraderie with your teammates, playing for your country, the opening ceremonies. Golf is such an individual sport, here it becomes a team event. It's great."
Thursday was a return to the East End for Smith, a Pittsburgh resident who once played a casual round at the National and who won the 2010 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton. It was completely new, though, for most of the team that is composed mainly of college golfers.
The main focus yesterday was to get the golfers accustomed to the nuances of the contoured greens designed by Hall of Fame architect and National founder C.B. Macdonald early in the 20th Century. But Holtgrieve said his real mandate is to make sure his players have the time of their lives. A recreational round at Shinnecock Hills is planned. Spontaneity is encouraged.
"I want them to enjoy this experience," Holtgrieve said, "because they're going to be Walker Cuppers for the rest of their lives."