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A Distinguished Walker Cup Substitute

Paragraphs I shall never write even if I live to be 102, which is my father’s age: “In 1922 I went to America again, this time as a camp follower of the team that was to play in the first match for the Walker Cup. I went there for The Times … And it so chanced that in the end I became an actual member, because Mr Harris, the Captain, fell ill; I had to play in his stead and became Captain of the team in the field.” The man who wrote that paragraph was Bernard Darwin, the famous golf writer, and there are some thin threads that link me to his coattails. Darwin was the golf correspondent of The Times, not that you would know because his golf was always described in the paper as being by “By Our Golfing Correspondent.” The paragraph above refers to his covering the first official Walker Cup, which was held at the National Golf Links on Long Island, New York. (There had been an unofficial match at Hoylake the previous year, won 9-3 by the U.S.) I was golf correspondent of The Times, and this week I shall travel to the National Golf Links to report on the 44th Walker Cup. If those were similarities, here is an enormous and unbridgeable difference, one as wide as the Atlantic Ocean. In his opening paragraph Darwin talks of playing instead of the captain, Robert Harris, who fell ill. Darwin, who was 45 at the time of the 1922 Walker Cup, does not say how good he was, so I shall tell you that he was not quite as good a golfer as he was a golf writer but good enough to have twice reached the semifinal of the Amateur and
played for England on eight occasions. What he does not say in this paragraph, though he goes into it later, is that though he lost his foursomes, he won his singles, against W.C. Fownes Jr., the son of the founder Oakmont Country Club. Never in a month of Sundays will I be called upon to stand in in the event of one of the GB&I team falling ill. You know a bit about Darwin, don’t you? Grandson of Charles, the naturalist, Bernard Darwin was the lawyer who turned to golf writing and at that had a career as long as a John Daly backswing, extending from 1907 to 1961. From the Great Triumvirate to after Ben Hogan and his annus mirabilis in 1953, Arnold Palmer and a young man who was approaching the first tee, Jack Nicklaus. He wrote about Harry Vardon, James Braid, J.H. Taylor as well as Freddie Tait, John Ball and Harold Hilton and Bobby Jones. Darwin wrote that Gene Sarazen reminded him of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland in the way that his grin remained with us long after Sarazen himself had disappeared. The one person he rarely wrote about was himself. He was so modest that Modesty not Meirion could have been one of his forenames. When he and Joyce Wethered won the Worplesdon Mixed Foursomes in 1933 he referred to himself in his report for The Times as “the elderly gentleman whose name for the moment escapes me.” If you want to read vivid golf reporting, then read Darwin on the 1913 U.S. Open where Francis Ouimet, the amateur, defeated Vardon and Ray in a playoff.


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