One has to wonder how many people in the United States even remember what the Walker Cup trophy looks like. After all, it has been six years since the Americans have had custody of the USGA International Challenge Trophy.
Though the U.S. holds a commanding 31-7-1 record in the biennial competition, which first was staged in 1922, Great Britain & Ireland has won three consecutive Walker Cup Matches and four of the past five. The last American victory came in 1997, when the bulk of this year’s U.S. team were young teenagers.
No one would like to see the current trend end more than U.S. captain Bob Lewis when the 40th Walker Cup Match is staged Aug. 13-14 at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Ill. Lewis, 61, was on four victorious Walker Cup squads (1981, ’83, ’85 and ’87), compiling a 10-4 record. But in his first stint as captain two years ago, the U.S. lost to GB&I, 121⁄2-111⁄2, at Ganton Golf Club in England.
“That really hurt,” Lewis said. “It was close and we had our chances. The bottom line is (GB&I) made the big putts when they needed them.”
So what does the U.S. side have to do to bring the Walker Cup back to American soil?
For one, putt better.
“It’s definitely going to take a team effort,” said Lewis. “Again, I think putting is going to be the key. The greens at Chicago Golf are very difficult.
If you leave yourself 30- to 40-foot putts, you’re (in trouble). But I think we have some pretty good putters on the team, and hopefully they’ll know the course and the greens pretty well.”
That course knowledge will be possible because of a four-day U.S. practice session Lewis scheduled for the last week of July. That will give an extremely young American team – the first without a mid-amateur player – a chance to build some camaraderie and learn the nuances of the host venue.
Matt Every, one of the nine first-time Walker Cuppers on the American side, said U.S. team members need to stay loose and relaxed and not put any additional pressure on themselves.
“I think we just have to go out and play,” Every said. “If all of us are on top of our games, we’ll do well.”
Oliver Wilson, a member of the 2003 GB&I Walker Cup team, agrees with Every’s approach.
“I know it’s hard because they’ve lost three in a row, but they just need to try and relax and enjoy it,” Wilson said. “They are putting a lot of pressure on themselves to try and win it back, and there is no need for that. That’s the last thing they need.
“There is so much talent in American college and amateur golf that they just have to go out and play. If it happens, it happens, and if it doesn’t, then so be it.”
That last part, of course, isn’t an approach that is likely to appease Lewis and his squad.
“The main thing is, none of us can be satisfied with just making the team – each of us has to want to win,” Every said. “I’m happy to make the team, but my goal is to win.”
Adds Lewis, “I’m ready to get that Cup back.”