JUNO BEACH, Fla. – It seems like every two years we have a lot of people with a lot of opinions on how to make the Walker Cup better.
They want more formats, more points, more players and more days.
Some even want a permanent date change.
Others wish to see the Great Britain and Ireland team expanded to include continental Europe, much like the move the Ryder Cup made in 1979.
My response to all of that is this: Why ruin a good thing?
The Walker Cup was established in 1922 thanks to then-USGA president George Herbert Walker’s vision to create an international team competition to bolster the game’s world footprint and strengthen the bond between the sport’s two governing bodies. Sure, adding countries would expand that footprint, but it would also take away opportunities for players in the R&A’s domain and dilute the match’s history. Plus, European amateurs are able to compete annually in the Arnold Palmer Cup and biennially at the Eisenhower Trophy.
The all-time series is noticeably lopsided, with the Americans’ victory at Seminole stretching their advantage to 38-9-1 and their current win streak to three. But in the past 14 editions, GB&I have won nearly half (six), and Sunday’s result was only a difference of two points, the fifth time in the last 10 matches that the winning margin was two points or fewer. Hardly one-sided.
“I don’t see it being any other way,” GB&I captain Stuart Wilson said. “14-12 and the way it’s set up, I think we’re looking forward to 2023 in St. Andrews, let’s put it that way.”
If you keep the tradition of U.S. vs. GB&I intact, it also makes little sense to increase the number of matches or competitors, or add formats. More points available would likely make things less competitive and the addition of four-balls would disadvantage the GB&I side.
There have only been three major changes to the terms of competition in Walker Cup history – match lengths were reduced from 36 holes to 18 holes in 1963 to allow for the addition of four foursomes and eight singles matches; half-points began being counted in 1971, which coincided with a GB&I victory at St. Andrews that year; and two extra singles matches were tacked onto the final session in 2009 so that every one of the 10 competitors could play. That’s one adjustment for about every 34 years.
This year’s match saw a temporary alteration, as alternates were allowed to travel with the team because of COVID-19 precautions, and one extra player per side actually saw action after a stomach bug struck more than two-thirds of each team. But aside from Sunday’s singles session, Walker Cup teams have two built-in reserves anyway.
As for moving the playing dates to the spring, as was done for the first time on U.S. soil this year, it makes more sense for the Americans, which are constantly having top players turn pro instead of waiting an entire summer to play a Walker Cup. But it’s not ideal for the selection process, which relies heavily on summer amateur events. The GB&I side would be particularly hurt by a May date, as the European calendar for the first few months of the year is pretty scarce compared to the U.S. college spring season.
And if players don’t want to delay going pro for a few months to represent their country, then that’s their choice.
The only potential change to the Walker Cup that would improve the experience for players and spectators while keeping the bones of the competition untouched would be to add an extra day. The amount of points would remain the same and no other formats would be played, but instead of squeezing four sessions into two days, you would have the opening ceremony on Friday morning followed by four foursomes that afternoon, a morning singles session and afternoon foursomes session on Saturday and 10 singles matches on Sunday.
This proposal would eliminate one practice day, but players already arrive the Sunday prior, and by the time the match arrives, they are beyond stir crazy. It’s a bit like putting horses in the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby and then leaving them in there overnight.
“It feels like it drags on during the week because by Friday you’re just so ready to go,” U.S. player John Pak said. “And then Saturday and Sunday get here, and it just flies. Your matches just go by so quick. I wish it was a three- or four-day event, you know, you want to compete a little longer and have some more time in between rounds to rest up.”
Added Ireland’s John Murphy: “This is a bit of a sprint, these couple days.”
As for the captains, Wilson agreed that past changes were necessary, but he didn’t seem fond of future modifications.
“I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to that," Wilson said. "I like it the way it is. Would a third day make it any better? Probably not.”
U.S. captain Nathaniel Crosby also was asked his thoughts this week, and the two-time captain and former player mentioned that he’d be in favor of adding two players to each team and an extra day.
“The guys fight so hard to get here,” he said. “It takes two years.”
Past captains have advocated for changes, as well, including Spider Miller, who led U.S. teams in 2015 and '17. Miller said back in 2017: "If they gave me one wish, I would begin the competition on Friday. I would add 18 holes of a best-ball component. I would play foursomes, singles, foursomes, best ball and the final day all 10 singles."
However, Crosby quickly rescinded his take.
“But that’s my opinion, and I’m sure that there’s a dogfight back in some conference room that I’m not invited to on that,” Crosby said. “When I say something out of bounds like that, it’s certainly not a reflection of the USGA’s opinion or the R&A’s opinion, and they’ve earned their right to continue the tradition as is. For me to say anything to have a subtle variation of the format would be out of bounds for me.”
So, for the sake of tradition, let’s just keep things there way they are.