The Los Angeles Country Club in Beverly Hills, home to this week’s Walker Cup, is a long way from Brecon in Mid Wales, where Great Britain and Ireland captain Andrew Ingram was brought up.
For years the exclusive club, with its $10m condos overlooking the two courses including Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion, has steered well clear of any publicity – there isn’t actually a sign outside, just the 10101 Wilshere Boulevard tucked away discretely – but this week the North Course will welcome the best amateur golfers from the United States and these shores. It will host the US Open for the first time in 2023.
At the head of the visiting team, and holders after their heroics at Lytham two years ago, is Ingram who, until last week was travelling to the matches as the chairman of the GB&I selectors. But then skipper Craig Watson had to stand down due to a bereavement in his immediate family.
We spoke to the stand-in skipper, a two-handicapper at Royal Porthcawl, on the eve of the matches.
When did you first know that you might have to stand in as captain?
Literally the Wednesday before we left for America last week. We knew about the illness and Craig told us there had been a deterioration and the R&A asked if I would like to take over the captaincy.
I was part of a panel of four; Craig, Nigel Edwards, Michael Burns and myself and the four of us have been following these players around Europe all year.
Has there been a handing over of Craig’s preparations?
We’ve been a very tight-knit panel anyway, we had no problems picking the final side and there were no arguments. We knew who we wanted and were singing from the same hymn book so it has been quite easy to pick it up.
At the Home Internationals there were a couple of places up for grabs and the way they panned out it made it easier to pick the side.
Is there a big feeling of trying to win this for Craig?
Very much so. Craig has been a very special part of this team and every time I have done interviews or talked to people here we are all talking about Craig. And if we can win it we will be doing it for him.
We have spoken this week, it is obviously a very sad time for him and his family.
Have your idea of the pairings changed much in the past few days?
No, I’ve had some long chats with the players, they’re playing foursomes this morning and I don’t think it’s any secret that the pairings they are in will be the ones they are in on Saturday. The hard thing is to pick the eight as they are all in good form.
How have you kept your preparations fresh?
We played a Stableford at Sherwood just to get the guys playing and to unwind and we then had our first day at LA Country Club just to get to know the course.
We have also played Bel-Air Country Club and on Thursday we played foursomes matchplay in two groups.
Who won the Stableford?
David Boote had 41 points. Nobody got any shots though Alfie wanted a couple!
And what about team bonding?
Team is the word and it’s not me telling them what to do, it’s a joint effort and that includes Nigel and Michael. It’s all about talking really, what the players want, how they see the course. We’ve got a meeting tonight on that and if they have any thoughts on how to play certain holes or anything else they can bring it up. It’s their tournament, I’m here to guide them and they will be hitting the shots.
This is only the second time California has hosted the Walker Cup, Cypress Point being the last time, and LA Country Club seems equally exclusive. What is it like?
The people have been so wonderful, I have never experienced a welcome like it. We had a meeting with the club members on Tuesday and everyone has been lovely. The spirit amongst the boys is amazing but they know what they’re here for and they’re absolutely desperate to win the trophy.
What is the most ‘LA’ thing you have experienced?
We did Universal Studios and we also went to The Late Late Show With James Corden and they boys were allowed to go on the set and have their photos taken.
— The Walker Cup (@WalkerCup) September 7, 2017
And the course?
Well we are in America so it is very long and very wide, the greens are very quick, as you would expect, it’s very fair and the boys are enjoying it. If they have tried to choose a course that our boys aren’t going to like then it hasn’t worked, they are loving it.
You have only had a week, have you written your own speeches or will you use what Craig had?
A bit of both, the R&A have given me some ideas, I’ve got some ideas from Nigel and Craig and then some of my own. I will try and put my own stamp on it, I won’t be reading anything parrot fashion, it’s got to be my personality in the meetings and elsewhere.
We’re 100-30 with the bookies, how good a chance do we have of winning?
Well we haven’t won away for 16 years so it won’t be easy. I don’t know a lot about the American team and I don’t really care to be honest, obviously I don’t mean that disrespectfully, but it’s been more about getting our team ready and to enjoy what they’re doing. We had a team meal with the Americans but we haven’t seen much of them.
Our boys are all playing well and we’ve got a real headache on who to leave out so that’s a good position to be.
All I said at the beginning of the week to the players is that they give 100 per cent, they can’t do any more than that and, if they can walk away from this tournament knowing that they have done all that they can to win, then the result will take care of itself.
— The Walker Cup (@WalkerCup) September 3, 2017