SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Standing near the 9/11 Memorial last Saturday in lower Manhattan, the 10 members of the 2013 USA Walker Cup Team were overcome with humility and reflection.
Cory Whitsett was in the fourth grade when the news reached his Houston-area grammar school. Patrick Rodgers, then a third-grader in Avon, Ind., was home sick that day and saw the horrific events unfold on television.
“It was on every station,” recalled Rodgers, now 21. “You knew it was a big deal. I don’t think you are ever going to forget where you were that day.”
Said the 21-year-old Whitsett: “Just to go there (Ground Zero) and think about what happened that day was pretty cool.”
When he’s not playing golf, 45-year-old Todd White, of Spartanburg, S.C., teaches government and U.S. history at Hilton Head Island (S.C.) High School. For the oldest member of the USA Walker Cup Team, this week in Metropolitan New York has been a walking classroom.
After being overcome with emotion at the 9/11 Memorial, White was able to enjoy visiting with President George W. Bush on Thursday. Bush joined the USA Team for lunch and played four holes with them at the National Golf Links of America, site of this year’s Match.
“You saw a sight where one of our nation’s greatest tragedies took place and see the way it has been memorialized … and it gives you a sense of pride in our country,” said White. “[Thursday], lunch with the President [and] the questions we were able to ask him on a personal one-on-one level, that’s not an opportunity a lot of people get. That is something that I will take back to my classroom and the faculty of the high school, and hopefully they’ll take as much pride in it as I have.”
One of the things USA Captain Jim Holtgrieve has stressed to the team is how special it is to play for your country. On the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 at the 2011 Walker Cup Match at Royal Aberdeen, he read a personal letter from Bush to his USA Team prior to Sunday’s matches.
During an informal practice session in late 2012 and when he attended amateur events this summer, Holtgrieve preached the same patriotic message.
He wanted the Walker Cup to be a life experience as well as a competitive one. That’s why he included the 9/11 Memorial excursion and a trip to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to watch the U.S. Open and meet 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer. It’s why he wanted the players to meet Bush, who also has long family ties to the Walker Cup.
“We know this event is more than about winning,” said Rodgers, one of two holdovers from the 2011 Team. “But winning this cup is the No. 1 goal. We’re very motivated to win.”
This Jet Can Carry Too
Many New Yorkers can remember when Kurt Sohn was catching passes as a member of the New York Jets. He played in the NFL for seven years before retiring after the 1988 season.
These days, you can find Sohn playing a lot of golf and caddieing at National Golf Links of America. The 56-year-old now resides in Manorville, N.Y., and was one of 20 NGLA caddies selected to work the Walker Cup Match, where he drew University of Alabama junior Bobby Wyatt.
An interesting sidenote is that Sohn’s first quarterback with the Jets was Alabama alum Richard Todd, whose son, Gator, played golf for the Crimson Tide and now plays on the minor-league eGolf Tour.
“I’m just delighted to be part of it,” said Sohn of the Walker Cup. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better place to play match play than at the National Golf Links of America. You never know what kind of conditions you are going to get and it can play different every single day.”
Sohn first started caddieing as a 13-year-old at Huntington (N.Y.) Country Club and fell in love with the game. He also played football and lacrosse, helping Huntington High to the 1975 Long Island championship in the latter sport.
“Football just got in the way [of my golf],” said Sohn, who played at North Carolina State, Nassau (N.Y.) Community College and Fordham before his seven-year career in the NFL.
Once he retired, he gravitated to golf again, estimating that he played “3,000 rounds in three years. I would play three or four times a day at Rock Hill Country Club in Manorville. We’d play right through the winter with orange balls in the snow. I was a fanatic.”
James Hirsch, who is caddieing for the USA’s Patrick Rodgers this week, said the club’s 20 top caddies were chosen to work the competition.
Though he wasn’t aware of Sohn’s NFL background, Wyatt quickly noticed that his caddie was in good shape.
“He definitely can beat me up the hill,” said Wyatt. “I did ask him if he ever fumbled and he said he muffed one punt and never did it again.”
Added Sohn: “Bobby’s a very solid player. He’s very bright. He pays attention to detail. He’s come out and done his homework on the golf course. I just hope to not get in his way.”
Happy To Be Back
GB&I Captain Nigel Edwards nearly needed an alternate when his father’s ill health forced him to return to Wales earlier in the week. Edwards, who arrived with the team last week, flew home to see his father and when his undisclosed condition stabilized, the 45-year-old flew back to New York on Thursday, arriving in time for the Walker Cup dinner at the National Golf Links of America.
“He's OK,” said Edwards, a four-time Walker Cup Team member who played on winning GB&I sides in 2001 and 2003. “So hopefully he's on the mend and the consultant [on Thursday] gave some positive news. He's in a tough place, but he wanted us to come out here and be part of the Walker Cup and let's go forward.”
The R&A was prepared to use John Paxton, a member of its selection committee, as the captain if Edwards could not return. But members of the GB&I Team were elated to see him on Thursday afternoon.
“He’s part of this team,” said reigning British Amateur champion Garrick Porteous. “He’s got so much motivation that he brings to the team. He’s got so much knowledge of playing in previous Walker Cups. He’s a great guy to have around. It wouldn't be the same without him.”
Added Matthew Fitzpatrick, who won the U.S. Amateur last month: “That's definitely one thing I would say about Nigel, [he’s] just so motivating and he gets you feeling ready to play, and I’m pretty sure all of us are raring to go.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.