By Rex Hoggard
A short five-minute drive from venerable Eugene Country Club, there stands an out-of-the-way Italian eatery called the Spaghetti Warehouse. It’s here Billy Mayfair’s mind races back some 18 years when asked about the Pacific Coast Amateur.
“I remember Brian Henninger’s dad had this great little spaghetti restaurant and we’d always go over and eat there,” Mayfair said. “I remember eating a lot of spaghetti.”
And, of course, he fondly remembers the tree-lined gem that ranks 40th on Golfweek’s America’s Best Modern list and has played host to three U.S. Golf Association championships as well as five Pacific Coast Amateurs.
If only quaint memories and a classic old track were all a tournament needed. In the crowded landscape of amateur golf, however, there must be more. More if you’re going to stand out. More if you want the USGA to notice.
That means garnering Walker Cup consideration for PCA participants. Until recently the gulf between the USGA and the West Coast’s top amateurs had been as imposing as the Great Divide.
“We felt the West had been under-represented (on the Walker Cup),” said John Bodenhamer, director of the Pacific Coast Golf Association.
Bodenhamer adds, however, that format changes and dialogue with key USGA officials have transformed this one-time Walker Cup afterthought into a left-coast litmus test for potential participants in the biennial matches.
The USGA delayed announcing last year’s team until after the PCA, traditionally held the first week of August, and Walker Cup captain Bob Lewis attended the 2003 championship at Capilano Golf & Country Club in British Columbia. Two weeks later, Westerners Brock Mackenzie, the ’02 PCA champion, and Ryan Moore were named to the Walker Cup team.
“The USGA really stepped up last year,” Bodenhamer said.
It wasn’t always that way.
Before ’03, the last Walker Cup team to have at least two players from the West was 1997 (Jason Gore and Joel Kribel). Since 1987 only twice has the team had more than two (1991, ’95).
Bodenhamer tactfully refers to the lack of West Coast representation on the Walker Cup team as a “thoughtful oversight.” An oversight, he stresses, that is being remedied in part by the PCA’s shift away from the Morse Cup team competition and back to an individual focus.
Mayfair, however, is not as diplomatic.
In 1987, Mayfair was offered a spot on the Walker Cup team that traveled to England. He’d won the U.S. Amateur Public Links and U.S. Amateur in successive years (1986, ’87) and back-to-back Pacific Coast Amateurs (1987, ’88) yet even then the USGA didn’t welcome the Arizona native with open arms.
“I had won the U.S. Public Links and won everything on the West Coast and I was one of the last ones picked,” Mayfair said. “I remember calling (former USGA executive director) P.J. Boatwright and I was the best junior and amateur there was, and he said to me if I lived on the East Coast I’d be on the team automatically, but since I live in the West I’d have to wait.”
Todd Demsey had a similar experience. The 1993 NCAA champion had assumed his college title and a steady amateur record would be enough to secure his place on the ’93 team. But it was his last-minute victory at the PCA, he later learned, that assured him a spot.
“It does seem the West Coast guys get overlooked,” Demsey said. “But to people that live on the West Coast, (the PCA) is a tournament you want to win.”
Jeff Wilson, a co-medalist at the 2000 U.S. Amateur and Mid-Amateur, was not as fortunate. He was snubbed when the USGA announced its 2001 Walker Cup team.
“They basically told him at the time he needed to play more in the East,” Bodenhamer said.
Officially, there is no Walker Cup “short list” used by the selection committee when identifying potential team members. Most observers agree, however, that after the core USGA championships (U.S. Amateur, U.S. Amateur Public Links and U.S. Mid-Amateur), selectors view results of the Northeast Amateur, Porter Cup, Western Amateur and Sunnehanna Amateur.
Before Bodenhamer’s recent detente with the USGA, the message for any Westerner looking to win Walker Cup points was clear – Head east, young man.
“For me to get the recognition I needed, I had to perform at the Northeast,” said Mackenzie, who went 3-0 for the U.S. Walker Cup team last year at Ganton. “There is a East Coast bias, but there are a lot of good players out here. Unfortunately, all the major amateur events are on the East Coast.”
Bodenhamer and PCA organizers realize they still face an uphill climb with the USGA, but with 37 years of history and a course rotation that includes Eugene, Olympic Club and Poppy Hills, most agree the only thing standing between the PCA and that coveted “top-event” status is a stronger bicoastal field.
“It has everything else, they just don’t get the East Coast players,” said ’98 PCA champion Ben Crane. “(More Walker Cup consideration) would give everyone, especially East Coast guys, a reason to play.”
Bodenhamer concedes that extended travel demands for Easterners and the PCA’s late-season spot on the schedule probably limits East Coast participation. But Lewis still feels the PCA’s strength is underestimated.
“It has a lot more status than most people give it credit for,” said Lewis, who has no official input into the Walker Cup team but offers advice to committee members. “It’s a tournament that’s definitely in the upper echelon . . . a tournament (the Walker Cup selection committee) looks at.”
It’s a tournament – thanks to an ever-strengthening field, classic courses and pasta you can’t pass up at the Spaghetti Warehouse – that everyone seems to be observing closely.