Whether you have it written down or it’s just a something you keep buried in the back of your mind, if you’ve followed sports for a significant portion of your life you have one: your sporting bucket list. The events or games you would give your left arm to be a part of; to be there in person taking in each and every second of competitive bliss.
Some are longer than others. Some grow over time.
When I was younger, the list was much simpler than it is now.
I wanted to see Ken Griffey, Jr. play centerfield at the Metrodome in Seattle, wanted to watch my Philadelphia Eagles play in a Super Bowl, my Phillies win a World Series (in 1988 at the age of 7 that seemed like a bit of a pipe dream) and watch Villanova, or any Big 5 Philly team for that matter, hoist a National Championship trophy. That’s it.
As I’ve grown, I’ve added Triple Crown races, Ironman races, a Frozen Four, Pipeline Masters in Hawaii, Wimbledon and major golf championships to that list.
Here’s an oldie but goodie to add to that list: The Walker Cup.
The U.S. Open, the Masters, the PGA Championship, the Open Championship, the Ryder Cup - they’re all fantastic events in their own right. They each have their own flavor….their own reasons why we love them.
Taking nothing away from the aforementioned events, The Walker Cup is just different. In the 90 years since its inception, we’ve seen the Ryder and Presidents’ Cups emerge as the more illustrious, more covered international team golf events, but there just isn’t a substitute for the original.
I had the opportunity to attend this year’s event in Aberdeen, Scotland and walked away with one of the greatest sporting memories of my lifetime. For a few simple reasons:
1. In Scotland, they follow amateur golf like we follow the NFL. The fans knew every player as if they were Tom Brady: James Byrne, Rhys Pugh, Blayne Barber, Russell Henley. What? You’ve never heard of these guys? Ask Rory from Links Road in Aberdeen. He’s got a 10-minute dissertation on all of them. It’s remarkable. The result? An atmospheric buzz that makes you feel like you are a part of the action.
2. While Ladbrooks and other bookies around the UK take in a ton of action on the event, these guys aren’t playing for a bloated purse - - they’re playing for the love of the game. As is the case with regular amateur events, there is no prize money. What is at stake, however, is a boatload of national pride. There’s something about playing for your country that brings a different element into play and both teams showed that ‘something’ this year. Just ask Byrne, the 22- year old Scot from just down the road who jarred an 80-footer on the 17th during Saturday’s singles match to finish off Nathan Smith with 2,000 or so spectators standing on the green. You think he wasn’t pumped to do that in front of his home crowd? Or Jordan Speith, the 18-year old wunderkind from Dallas who calmly rolled in an 8-footer on 18 to earn a half-point in the Sunday morning foursomes, then erupted with emotion with his teammates, Dad and a half-dozen people from his hometown looking on. Fantastic.
3. Getting in early. Ten years from now, no one knows what any of these kids will end up doing. Some might be pros in their hometown, some may be hoisting a major championship trophy, but it’s the chance to possibly see the next Tiger or Phil at a grassroots level that makes the event that much more exciting. Every sports fan loves to cling to the memories of the one athlete they saw before the million dollar contracts. I still remember watching Kobe thrash his way to a title at the Palestra in Philadelphia his senior year at Lower Merion. Who knows if I saw the next great golfer knocking down 10-footers at Royal Aberdeen? But if I did, ten years from now I’ll certainly tell you about it.