2001: For U.S., another loss of a sure thing

Sea Island, Ga.

Now that Great Britain & Ireland has won three of the last four Walker Cups by a rounded average slap of 15-9, notions should cease about Ryder-like team expansion to include all of Europe. Growth instead appears more necessary for the defeated superpower, the United States, which perhaps should be allowed to consider prospective birdie makers from neighbors Mexico and Canada and, of course, U.S. associates Guam, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Help, too, could come from American Samoa in the South Pacific. One would think someone there is practiced at surviving on a steamy island, such as this one in south Georgia, where this latest 10-man band of Yank amateurs suffered through far too many strokes in the heat.

The United States has lost yet another stronghold. Vise grips on automobile, steel and electronics manufacturing are gone. Foregone conclusions in America’s Cup sailing and Ryder Cup golf are past. And now the Walker Cup can’t be counted on to be the Walkover Cup.

Starting in 1922, the Americans won 30 and tied once in the first 34 of these international gatherings. Now that they’ve taken only one of the last four, this much is clear: Though the U.S. of A. thought it had ownership of the game Great Britain invented, it was only borrowing.

Recent Walker Cup developments have been particularly distasteful for Danny Yates, 51, Georgia golf blueblood family member. First Yates played on the U.S. team that in 1989 lost for the first time on American grass at, of all places, his home course, the Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta. Now he has captained the last two teams to 15-9 defeats and the country’s first losing streak.

That the latest came on Sea Island is unthinkable. Kenyans are supposed to win the Boston Marathon and Chinese are supposed to win in Ping-Pong and Yateses are supposed to win at Sea Island. Yates, his father, Danny, and his uncle Charlie all won Georgia State Amateur Championships here.

“(Losing) makes it hard,” Yates said. “My family has a house here. It’s going to be hard to come back for a while.”

This was supposed to be a return to glory at home. This had the makings of a Hollywood ending. After all, in another celebrated Georgia match, the rusty Rannulph Junuh, with Bagger Vance as guide, wowed the locals as a heavy underdog to Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen down the road in Savannah. Junuh had girl problems at the time, but at least he somehow tied the Emperor and the Haig.

Yates’ men weren’t as good. They held a one-point edge midway but then won only two of the final 12 matches. Both victories belonged to Georgia Tech-ex Bryce Molder, America’s top amateur until he turned pro after the matches. That means Molder, curiously, will miss the U.S. Amateur at East Lake in Atlanta, where he played in college, and will deprive his golfing soul of a possible lifelong Bobby Jones-type memory.

Molder again showed he will be a successful professional. He did not lose in four matches. The second of his three wins was a 7-and-6 whipping with David Eger.

Yates’ GB&I counterpart, by all bear-faced appearances, was either Mike Ditka or Captain Kangaroo, probably the latter considering job title. In reality, he was Peter McEvoy, upbeat motivator. Probably his “stern chat” with the team Saturday night helped. Certainly penciling in Luke Donald – the Lemon Drop Kid, given ’do coloring – was beneficial.

Donald, 7-1 in two Cups, was the most talented player at Ocean Forest. His 252-yard 2-iron approach onto the green of the hazard-filled, 539-yard 10th in Saturday singles may have been the weekend’s best strike. Having added length to his reputed control game and Goosen-like temperament, new pro Donald will surprise only if he doesn’t win at least one U.S. Open.

The 38th Walker Cup helped reveal that and more. Cheap necklaces are back in. Young players pull up their polo sleeves in Tiger-like musclehead fashion. Nick Cassini, given uncle Oleg, figures to be a well-dressed pro. But the event remains among the game’s best because of purity and the fact spectators can walk on ropeless fairways.

Further, it showed that former President George Bush, grandson of the Walker Cup founder, still has golf clout, for he played speed rounds at Ocean Forest with Davis Love III the two days before the matches. And, of course, it revealed that the long-bombing American superkids Earl Woods says he has seen haven’t arrived yet.

They might want to hurry.

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