Sir Michael Bonallack is one of Great Britain and Ireland’s all-time great Walker Cup players, having appeared in eight Walker Cups, which is second to only Joseph Carr. He also was a playing captain for the 1969 and 1971 GB&I Teams, the latter of which was victorious at the Old Course at St. Andrews. Bonallack’s eight points (8-14-3) ranks second all-time for GB&I behind the 10 accrued by Gary Wolstenholme. Bonallack, the 1952 British Boys champion, claimed five British Amateur titles and represented GB&I in seven World Amateur Team Championships. He later became Secretary of The R&A from 1984 to 1999 and later was named Captain of The R&A in 2000, the same year he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
What do you remember about your first Walker Cup?
Well, the first one I played in wasn’t the first one I was in, which was strange because I was picked for the 1957 Walker Cup match in Minneapolis at the Minikahda Club. Now at that time you had teams of 10 and you played two days as you do now, but the first day was a series of 36-hole foursomes, four matches, and the second day was eight singles for 36 holes. I didn’t play in either. I was a member of the team, but I never got to hit a shot in anger. I spent the whole time running back and forth – there were no buggies in those days – to the lockerroom to fetch drinks and such for the other players.
Why didn’t you play?
Captain’s decision. Gerald Micklem was the captain. I didn’t play well in the practice rounds. But I learned a lot from that. Later on when I was captain and I had to sit someone down, I knew how to handle it. To go all the way to America and not hit a shot was a disappointment. But it was still quite an experience being in that atmosphere.
But you played the following year at Muirfield?
I did. I played Deane Beman in singles. I lost 2 down over 36 holes. I went ‘round in 69 in the morning and just 1 up. We had a good game. We became friends then and we’ve been friends ever since. And Jack [Nicklaus] was on that team as well in ’59, and we became friends as well. And we’re still friends. And now I’m on Jack’s Captains Club at Muirfield Village Golf Club for his tournament there [the Memorial Tournament] and that started with our friendship from the Walker Cup.
You had great success as an amateur. Where does the Walker Cup rank in your career?
At that time, the ambition of an amateur golfer was not to win the [British] Amateur Championship but to be a member of the [Great Britain and Ireland] Walker Cup Team. And especially, we hadn’t won it since 1938, so not only did you want to be on a Walker Cup team, but you wanted to be on a winning Walker Cup team. We didn’t win it until 1971 when I was in it as playing captain. That was 33 years. One of the biggest thrills of my golfing life, winning that one at St. Andrews.
What stands out from that victory?
It was an extraordinary match. We had won all four foursomes in the morning and we ended up two matches behind after singles in the afternoon. We then played foursomes [on Sunday] morning and fell another point behind, and it looked all over. Spectators went home. But in the afternoon we had a resurgence in singles and won by one point. And all of St. Andrews got drunk. That was a great match, but I got to play in a lot of great matches over that period. Great players all through there, too.