LOS ANGELES | The microphone clicked, disturbing the still California air and a firm voice started up: ”Welcome to the opening matches of the 46th playing of the Walker Cup.” It was moments before 7:15 am at Los Angeles Country Club and 10 amateur golfers from Great Britain and Ireland were about to start their defence of the trophy named after the great grandfather of an American president against their 10 American opponents.
In short, it was the first tee of the best event in amateur golf. The first tee shot of one of the best team events in golf. The first tee of one of golf’s oldest team events. And one man from each team had the nerve-racking honour of hitting his team’s opening shot in the first morning’s foursomes. “Play away please,” said the starter, words that have been used for centuries to send players on their way.
Harry Ellis, the Amateur champion, from Meon Valley in Hampshire, England,was to hit first, as GB&I, as the holders of the cup, had the honour. Perhaps 500 people stood around watching. There was no singing, as at a Ryder Cup. There was no wild applause as players reached the tee, no waving of flags. There was a gentlemanly silence, as dignified as the event itself.
Ellis’s heart raced, knowing that in similar team events the player hitting off first talked of the difficulty of putting their ball onto a tee peg because of shaking hands. The tee was a simple one, in keeping with the traditions of the Walker Cup, designated by two small wooden markers little bigger than the head of a driver stuck in the ground.
Ellis’s drive soared down the fairway. He gave a visible sigh of relief and handed his club to Jose Jimenez, his caddie. Then it was the turn of Collin Morikawa. His drive too, whistled through the air, well on its way towards the green, more than 550 yards away.
One of the game’s greatest challenges had been met – controlling the nerves on the first tee of a team event. And one of the most enjoyable competitions in golf had got underway.