I love the Walker Cup. Or, to be more accurate, I love most everything about it. Watching amateurs compete in a match play team format is golf at its purest and the Walker Cup is contested on courses superior to those that host the Ryder Cup or Solheim Cup. Well, just because something is great doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon. Look at New Coke. OK, bad example, there, but here’s how I’d make the Walker Cup even better.
The 48th playing of the biennial competition between a team of 10 U.S. male amateur golfers and 10 players from Great Britain and Ireland was staged in early May this year ostensibly due to weather reasons. Florida in the traditional fall date during Hurricane season could have been a (natural) disaster. But I’ve been saying this for a while: The dates need to be shifted permanently to May or early June at the latest.
GB&I may not like it because the golf season across the pond is just getting started, but the reality is that the September date is antiquated for these college-aged players, many of whom plan to turn pro and no longer want to wait and miss out on sponsor’s invites and the chance to earn enough money and qualify for the Korn Ferry Tour Finals. The week after the NCAA Men’s Championship finishes (first week of June) is about as late as this competition should be contested. We want to see the best 10 players on each side, not just the best 10 that didn’t turn pro early.
Cole Hammer celebrates making a birdie putt on the 18 hole to win his Foursomes match at the 2021 Walker Cup at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida on Saturday, May 8, 2021. (Photo: Scott Halleran/USGA)
That brings me to my next change. Out of concern for COVID-19, both teams had two alternates available that traveled to the matches. That became important to the success of the matches when a different virus reared its ugly head and 18 of the 24 competitors dealt with a stomach virus. It forced both teams to use alternates for the first time in the 99-year history of the competition. It’s time to expand the roster to 12 members to a team. As Team USA alternate Mac Meissner said, “I worked my butt off to be on this team.”
But he didn’t do so to wear an ear piece all weekend and have a beach holiday. The Ryder Cup already has proved that 12 is the magic number.
Speaking of the much ballyhooed pro version of the Walker Cup, it’s time for the USGA to take a page out of the Ryder Cup playbook and expand the GB&I side to constitute all of Europe. Doing so rejuvenated the Ryder Cup from what was a stale competition into arguably the biggest deal in golf.
Ricky Castillo and Mac Meissner fist bump on the 17th hole during Foursomes at the 2021 Walker Cup at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida on Saturday, May 8, 2021. (Photo: Chris Keane/USGA)
While GB&I put up a noble fight, losing 14-12, the U.S. now holds a 38-9-1 all-time record in the competition. It isn’t quite the Harlem Globetrotters dominance of the Washington Generals, but it is lopsided enough to resemble Alabama over the rest of the SEC. Four years from now when GB&I returns to the U.S. for the matches at Cypress Point, it is likely that none of the competitors will have been born since GB&I last won on U.S. soil (in 2001). We’ll never know how much of a difference Spain’s Jon Rahm and Norway’s Viktor Hovland would have made, but I’d love to find out from the next generation of continental Europe stars and put to bed the nickname of “the Walk-over Cup.”
And while we’re borrowing from the Ryder Cup, let’s add a third day of competition. This has been widely discussed before and I just don’t see what the downside to another day of competition should be. Two years of buildup for two days? We can do better than that. We’ve got the best players assembled, so let them settle who’s best on the course and enough with the practice rounds. Even U.S. team captain Nathaniel Crosby seemed to be on board with several of these suggestions.
“I’d love to see it go to 12 players, a couple alternates and three days,” he said. “The guys fight so hard to get here. It takes two years. But that’s my opinion, and I’m sure that there’s a dogfight back in some conference room that I’m not invited to on that.
“But this has been the thrill of a lifetime. When I say something out of bounds like that, it’s certainly not a reflection of the USGA’s opinion or the R&A’s opinion, and they’ve earned their right to continue the tradition as is. For me to say anything to have a subtle variation of the format would be out of bounds for me.”
Tradition be damned. If baseball’s National League can do away with pitchers batting after all these years, the Walker Cup can take the necessary steps to evolve and continue to be the pinnacle of amateur golf.