Aberdeen, Scotland – The sky may have been grey but the enduring passion for the Walker Cup shone bright at the opening ceremony Friday evening.
If there was a lingering chance that any of this weekend’s competitors did not know the importance of this event it has gone now. Reminders of Walker Cups past, present and future were all represented as the 43rd edition of amateur golf’s oldest team competition was officially opened on the Balgownie Links.
Even the gloomy weather added to the occasion as the Bucksburn & District Pipe Band marched in full flow back along the first fairway to appear before the large crowds some 50 yards from the clubhouse. The buzz from the helicopters travelling to the North Sea rigs even seemed to fit the music – acting as a reminder that we are in Europe’s oil capital for the weekend.
Twenty-one former players – including a competitor from the 1957 contest –and representatives from 23 former venues joined three captains from future venues on centre stage. The legends – Francis Ouimet, Bobby Jones and the writer Bernard Darwin - received a deserved mention in the speeches and memories of recent duels were also recalled. A note from the 41st U.S. President George Bush – the grandson of founder and past USGA president George Herbert Walker – was read to the crowds, underlining the high esteem in which the contest is held.
USA captain Jim Holtgrieve, though a veteran of such proceedings, had taken his role seriously, joking that he had spent hours practising his flag raising duties. For him it was the perfect way to get his team in the right frame of mind for the two-day competition.
“It was just very emotional for me,” he explained. “I told Nigel as we were standing there, ‘can you believe we’re in Scotland captaining teams in the Walker Cup? For me it’s just overwhelming.
“I really hope somebody has got that on tape because I want to see all of it. I’m ready for tomorrow.”
His opposite number Nigel Edwards of Wales agreed that the ceremony was the perfect taster of what to expect for the Great Britain & Ireland Team.
“I’ve always found it is very moving,” speaking as he walked through the departing crowds from his fifth Walker Cup opening ceremony. Edwards competed in four Walker Cups and is captaining the GB&I side for the first time.
“You’re representing your country and it’s a great privilege to be part of the team. They are certainly up for it now and looking forward to it. It’s great to see so many people coming out to support the event. It’s a very special occasion.
“It sets the scene for the weekend. The players seeing all the people attending, spectators, former players and the famous names who have been involved, and it brings it home to them the significance of being a Walker Cup player. They realise how important it is, they are respectful of the game and are enjoying every moment of it.”
Once the formalities of Friday night are out of the way it will be back to the serious business of golf. As the evening faded and the sun reappeared – a hopeful sign of better weather on Saturday – talk turned immediately to the foursomes (alternate-shot) selections announced at the ceremony. The home crowd will have one of their own to cheer in the first pairing as Scotland’s Michael Stewart will partner with first-round Open leader Tom Lewis against 2010 U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein and Harris English. The all-Irish pairing of Paul Cutler and Alan Dunbar will be pitted against Nathan Smith and Blayne Barber in the third match. Smith also competed in 2009 and went 2-0 in foursomes with Uihlein.
In the afternoon singles, Lewis and Uihlein will meet again in the opening match, with Holtgrieve picking World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) No. 1 Patrick Cantlay at the tail against Stewart. A repeat of last month’s U.S. Amateur quarter final duel between Jack Senior and Jordan Spieth is sure to be a highlight in the second match, with 17-year-old Rhys Pugh of Wales making his first appearance against 19-year-old Patrick Rodgers.
John Robertson is a media and editorial manager for The R&A. E-mail him at email@example.com.