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USGA excited to have the National as site of September's Walker Cup

Golfers make their way on a cart path

Golfers make their way on a cart path from the second tee past the course's iconic windmill near the 17th tee. (May 6, 2013) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The National Golf Links of America is very comfortable with competitions: hosting them and being in them. So the historic club in Southampton was not inhibited to find out that 150 other U.S. clubs had bid to host the Walker Cup match this year.

It was no contest. As club vice president Mike McBride recalled it Monday, even on a cold October day a few years ago, Mike Davis, the head of the U.S. Golf Association, looked at the vista from the second hole that legendary architect and club founder Charles Blair Macdonald designed in 1909 and said, "We're coming to National."

The Walker Cup, a prestigious every-other-year match between amateurs from the United States and peers from Britain and Ireland, is coming to the National on Sept. 7 and 8. And the place will not look much different from it did on media day Monday, or than it does for members, who play the links-style layout bordered by Shinnecock Hills and Sebonack Golf Club.

"One thing we try not to do at the USGA is mess up the Mona Lisa," said Tom O'Toole, the USGA vice president.

He acknowledged that, in terms of clubs looking to host, "this is our most sought after and coveted event." O'Toole sheepishly added that the USGA generally does not divulge the number of clubs in the running, the way McBride did. But he did not dispute it.

"This is an extraordinary event," said McBride, adding that the idea to host it occurred to him and then-president Parker Gilbert during planning for the club's centennial in 2009. National -- as members and other golf aficionados call it -- majors in history. It is known for having hosted the first Walker Cup in 1922, with a trophy named for club member and USGA president George Herbert Walker (grandfather to U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush).

The match has not been back since, which is adding excitement along the 60-yard wide fairways and famously undulating greens this year.

"Our lads have not seen the National Golf Links yet, but I know they're in for a treat," Britain and Ireland captain Nigel Edwards said on a Skype hookup. He visited last fall. "I didn't think it was the typical American golf course. I do think there will be a lot of birdies, but the skills that will be required will be into the greens, and on and around the greens."

Previous "lads" who have played Walker Cup include Bobby Jones, Francis Ouimet, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Sandy Lyle, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy.

One who might play this year is Smithtown teenager Jim Liu, a candidate who was invited for practice sessions in Florida last December by U.S. captain Jim Holtgrieve.

Holtgrieve said Monday of his still-unnamed golfers: "I just want them to go out and have the best experience of their lives. It's going to be awesome here."

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