SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – So you want to be a U.S. Walker Cupper?
Buckle up. It’s a steady stream of once-in-a-lifetime moments.
Most of the 10 U.S team members arrived in New York City on Aug. 30 and promptly checked into the swanky W Hotel downtown.
The next morning, they were led on an informal tour of the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero. “To see that, up close, was pretty moving,” said Jordan Niebrugge, a 20-year-old from Oklahoma State.
Later that afternoon, they headed to Arthur Ashe Stadium for the U.S. Open tennis tournament. They watched Caroline Wozniacki lose – sorry, Rory – and ventured down into the bowels of the stadium, where they bumped into Roger Federer – OK, technically his agent – who was warming up for his late-evening match. It didn’t take much coaxing before Fed was posing for pictures, wishing the boys good luck.
“So sweet,” former Alabama star Justin Thomas said.
On Sunday, they finally began focusing on the task at hand, squeezing in a practice round at the Creek Club in Locust Valley, another C.B. Macdonald design.
The next day, they practiced here at National Golf Links, which is hosting the Walker Cup for the first time since 1922, but their round down the road at Shinnecock was rained out Tuesday.
“The lowlight of the week,” Cal’s Michael Weaver said with a smirk.
The highlight, then, might have come Thursday, when they ate lunch with former President George W. Bush before playing four holes with '43,' whose great-grandfather, George Herbert Walker, is the namesake of this biennial event.
No ramen noodles here: During the four-course lunch, players feasted on a lobster appetizer, choice of soup (popular choice: chicken and sausage gumbo), a main course that included such options as swordfish, scallops, chicken and shepherd’s pie, and dessert. Hey, it’s called The Big Lunch for a reason.
Sure, the grub was good, but the best part, players say, was gathering around Bush and listening to his stories, specifically his memories of the infamous day nearly 12 years ago. Though many of the players were only in elementary school on 9/11, they can vividly recall where they were when the towers were hit.
“It was dead quiet as he talked, just running through his whole day,” Weaver said. “I had chills the whole time.”
After lunch, five players teed it up with Bush on Nos. 1 and 2, while the other five team members played the finishing two holes. Despite not hitting any balls or warming up, Bush piped one down the first hole, a 326-yard par 4, and displayed a soft touch around the greens.
“It was a pretty incredible experience, just to see how much goes into it with the Secret Service and everything,” Niebrugge said. “He’s such a down-to-earth guy. It was just like he was one of us.”
On Friday, players will practice early in the morning before the opening ceremonies at 5:30 p.m. Foursomes and singles sessions loom on both Saturday and Sunday, when a 44th Walker Cup champion will be crowned.
“It’s one of those things where I wish this week would never come to an end,” former Cal standout Max Homa said, “but I also can’t wait for Saturday. This is not something people our age should be doing. Emotionally, I’m just at such a high. It’s a high I’ll probably never touch again.”