|Jay Sigel (right) hoisted the Walker Cup eight times in nine appearances. (USGA Museum)
No American has played in more Walker Cups than Jay Sigel. The Berwyn, Pa., native’s nine appearances ranks only behind the all-time record held by Great Britain and Ireland’s Joe Carr. His USA Teams were 8-1 (only loss was in 1989) and he produced an overall record of 18-10-5. Sigel, who was the playing captain of the USA side in 1983 and 1985, also had one of the more decorated USGA careers, winning five national championships, including the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur in the same year (1983).
Does any particular Walker Cup stand out?
Sigel: They all do. Certainly the first one in 1977 [at Shinnecock Hills]. God bless Mike Brannan, my [foursomes] partner. We both were so nervous that we couldn’t decide who was going to hit on the first hole. We got 50 yards from the tee – and [Mike] was a very straight driver – so he said, “Let me hit first.” I think he hit 3-wood and I had 140-something yards and I hit pitching wedge right over the green. And, of course, the flag raising [ceremony] was something else.
What goes through your mind when you are playing the Walker Cup for the first time?
Sigel: There’s nothing like it. We’ve all been to a ballgame, but it’s different now. You’re on the U.S. side. You’ve got your buddies there and you are going to do battle, and you are representing your community, your country, your teammates and your friends.
Does any particular match stand out for you?
Sigel: I remember playing at Sunningdale [in England] and the hotshot on the other side was [Robert] Eggo. It was the first day of singles. The first hole was a par-5 and you had to hit it pretty straight. The hole had people all the way down the fairway and the pin was tucked way on the left. . I think I hit a 4-iron in there … and it was as good a shot as you could hit. Eggo hits next and it’s probably a 4-iron and I see the ball take off right at the pin. I’m thinking it’s going to go in the bunker or off the green. And little did I know it went in the hole [for a double-eagle 2]. And then he said, “You’re eagle [putt] is good.” Of course, we got a chuckle out of that one.
The Peachtree [Golf Club Match] where we lost in  stands out. We were so far behind [on Sunday] and the players wanted me to go last [off]. I’m peeking at the scoreboard [during my match] and I can’t believe what I am seeing. We’re catching up and my match was in good shape. Long story short, it didn’t turn out that way (12.5-11.5 loss). It was a big disappointment for me. I couldn’t have done too much more.
I saw [my 1989 teammate] Phil Mickelson at Ray Floyd’s wife’s funeral last year. We were chatting about stuff and Phil remembers every shot that I hit and the other guy hit on those four holes. It is amazing. That goes to show you how [the Walker Cup] affects everybody. My whole entire team was out there following me. The only consolation I got was our captain, Fred Ridley, said that night at the dinner that “I think Jay is the only person who can come back from this.” [My opponent] Jim Milligan chipped in on 17 [for par]. He’s 1 down and I am on the hole in two just off the green. He fluffs his third shot and the ball didn’t go anywhere. Basically the match is over. He then fluffs [his fourth shot] and the ball rolled down the slope into the hole. And I, of course, didn’t get it up and down [and we halved the match]. It was a very emotional time.
You also were a two-time playing captain. Was that a tough juggling act?
Sigel: Being named playing captain was very special. It was as high an honor as a participant can have. It was a great responsibility, particularly at my home club at Pine Valley [in 1985]. They had the pins tucked so tough there and I was playing Colin Montgomerie [in singles]. I had just a fabulous caddie who was my regular [caddie] there. I was six under and beat him 5 and 4 [on Saturday], which was a helluva match. But the playing captaincy has not been done very often, if at all when the playing captain plays. I think Campbell was [in 1955], but he elected not to play.
As playing captain, it was my thinking that everyone would play three times and two guys would play [all] four [sessions]. The guys earned the right [to be on the team], so I thought they should play as long as nobody is injured. There’s a thrill about being part of it. And sitting out is not easy.
I did have one instance [in 1983 at Royal Liverpool] where I had a player say he was uncomfortable playing with so and so. As a captain, I’m in a tough spot. I’m looking around and one of my players (reigning U.S. Amateur champion Nathaniel Crosby) jumps up. It was a pretty emotional time. I knew GB&I would put their best team out first. But [Crosby] jumps out and says, “We’ll kill them.” So I put them out first and they won [2 up]. That was all emotion. I still talk to the guys today about it, and that was pretty cool.
Did you ever imagine playing in nine Walker Cups?
Sigel: I really tried hard to make that first Walker Cup [in 1977]. That was a goal of a career amateur. When my wife and I left Shinnecock Hills driving down [to Philadelphia] after it ended, I said, “We need to do this again.” So we started to plan. Now you have to play [a lot of amateur golf events]. Thanks to the USGA who had a realistic goal for a career amateur like me. Trying to win the U.S. Amateur every year would drive you crazy. And it’s not easy to make a Walker Cup Team, but it’s reachable and achievable for a good player. That kept me in the game and kept me competitive until age 50 and then I had a choice [to join the Champions Tour]. I was very fortunate. I was healthy. I had an [insurance] business and a wife who allowed me to do it.
What about some of your friendships from the Walker Cup?
Sigel: The venues were incredible, but some of the partners that I had were just fabulous. The opponents like Padraig [Harrington], Paul McGinley and Sandy Lyle and Colin Montgomerie … we still talk about it and laugh about it. My wife and I stayed with Padraig on a couple of different occasions after the Walker Cup because the British Amateur was always the following week, so we got housing. I told Padraig this that I had him picked out for my daughter, but that didn’t work out. He’s a fine young man.
You get to know guys in a different way. I would compete against Phil [Mickelson], but I would never have dinner with him or go out socially with him or play practice rounds with him. We were competitors. The ability to get to know these guys was really incredible. I still have some nice notes that I have received from [teammates] and I will cherish them for a long time.