If you've never been to a Walker Cup then you're missing a trick. It might be the best viewing experience that you'll ever have, as Mark Townsend found out
My first memory of the Walker Cup was at Sunningdale in 1987 where I have a hazy memory of Bobby Eggo, or it might have been Paul Girvan, make a tap-in eagle only for Jay Sigel to roll one in from 30 feet for a half.
Peter Alliss, Alex Hay and Bruce Critchley were at the controls in the commentary box and Clive ‘How’s it lying?’ Clark was the man out on the course.
The Americans thumped us 16.5-7.5, for the eighth straight time apparently, and it looked to be the most one-sided contest in sport. To my teenage mind this couldn’t possibly continue. Like the Ryder Cup, which we had just won for the first time overseas, we needed the stars of Europe to join us.
Two years later we won on American soil.
Since 1989 the scoreline reads 8-6 and it has become a competition where home advantage is huge – we have now won five of our last six home matches – and one where I have never gone any further than putting on the television.
In 1999 I split up with my girlfriend of the time after choosing to sit in front of events from a blustery Nairn for five hours rather than “do something together”. The prospect of watching Graeme Storm and Paddy Gribben more appealing than a walk around a lake.
On the Sunday of the Lytham matches two years ago, after 15 years of writing about the biennial matches, I went to watch it live. Within 10 minutes I had got within five yards of Bryson DeChambeau, the then US Amateur champion, on both his shots, one ordinary and one spectacular, as I joined a very gentle human cavalcade along each fairway which was policed only by two stewards and a piece of rope.
Conversations between player and caddie could be ear-wigged while shots thudding off the turf were equally as audible. Hard shots from stinky lies were immediately obvious as were the effects of unexpected gusts of wind.
On the putts every green was surrounded, lines and breaks scrutinised and the very obvious sportsmanship, an even bigger factor than I had anticipated, was easily evident.
Better still, there was no hint of feeling like you are about to be ticked off by someone.
You are part of it all, you are trusted not to make a mess of it, and it is magical.
This is all a world apart from the likes of the Open or Wentworth where players do their thing, you watch from a distance, and then go home none the wiser as to a player’s personality, mannerisms or possible swing defects.
You do, though, get a tip of the cap and an instinctive raise of the hand. Quite often it’s sterile.
The Walker Cup has no pretence, the players are yet to have their personalities diluted by media training and you get a very good sense, very quickly, of what they’re about.
You go home buoyed by the experience, you have invested in the experience, shots are discussed because you have a far greater idea of what has gone into them and you’ll probably strike up a preference for a handful of players. And then intermittently follow their progress in the coming months as they make their way in the professional ranks.
The 47th Walker Cup will be played on September 7 and 8 at Royal Liverpool. Try it, you’ll love it.