There is so much right with the Walker Cup, but the selection process has to go
The Walker Cup is coming up this weekend at Royal Aberdeen in Scotland, a classic and wild links course.
For that, we have to thank the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club for taking this amateur event to great layouts Merion, Royal County Down and Chicago Golf Club, to name a few unlike the Ryder Cup, where the respective PGA organizations forsake the good of the competition in favor of sites where they can make the most money. That's why the Ryder Cup has been stuck with non-classics the K Club, Celtic Manor, The Belfry, Valhalla and others.
The Walker Cup remains about the competition, something that has gotten misplaced at times in the Ryder Cup. The beauty of this amateur competition is that it truly is a toss-up, even though the American side routed Great Britain & Ireland two years ago.
The Americans are favored to win a fourth straight time, thanks to Peter Uihlein, the 2010 U.S. Amateur champ; three-time Mid-Amateur champ Nathan Smith; two-time Junior Am winner Jordan Spieth; Patrick Cantlay, the UCLA sophomore-to-be who made the cut in four pro events this summer and narrowly lost the U.S. Amateur to Kelly Kraft.
The Americans also boast Russell Henley and Harris English, two players who won Nationwide Tour events this summer. That would seem to make the lineup lopsided in the Americans' favor, but it'll be links golf at Aberdeen. The weather could level the playing field dramatically, as could the format.
As great as the Walker Cup is, the non-transparent selection process has come under scrutiny this year. There is no points system. The players are simply announced, even anointed, by an anonymous committee. At least one past American team captain told a team member that he wanted two specific players to fill his last two picks, and he didn't get them. Why not? And who's really in charge here? Not the team captain, obviously.
Controversy hovered over both teams this year. Ireland's Alan Dunbar was named to the GB&I team instead of David Law, who has won two of the last three Scottish Amateurs. Law was 87th in the R&A's amateur rankings, while Dunbar was No. 208.
On the U.S. side, NCAA champion John Peterson was surprisingly left off the team. In addition to winning the NCAA title, Peterson finished second to English in his Nationwide win, and he was the seventh-ranked amateur in the world.
Who is there to point a finger at? No one. Just the governing bodies. I'd like to see the teams chosen with a points system or even by one of the current amateur ranking systems. That would help eliminate this kind of controversy and the scent of politics and backroom deals.
Also, the Walker Cup has never caught the public's attention because, well, it's amateur golf. Another reason is that it's over and done before you know it started. While the Ryder Cup is contested over three days, the Walker Cup is a double-session Saturday and Sunday, that's all. The drama doesn't have time to build. A third day would make it more attractive, at least for television. But maybe it's better as pure golf.
Another troubling thing about the Walker Cup is also troubling about the Ryder Cup. Why is so much of the world excluded from this competition?
The GB&I team expanded to include all of Europe in the Ryder Cup, a formula that made the matches more competitive and more exciting. Maybe only the U.S. and GB&I were golf-worthy when Samuel Ryder began his matches, but now the game has gone global. It didn't make sense to keep Greg Norman of Australia out of the Ryder Cup any more than it made sense to keep Karrie Webb of Australia, Lorena Ochoa of Mexico and current women's world No. 1 Yani Tseng out of the Solheim Cup, the women's equivalent of the Ryder Cup.
A stunning number of good young players are from Italy, Germany, Sweden and Spain, but they aren't eligible for the Walker Cup.
Golf is being added to the Olympics in order to expand the game's reach. The Walker Cup could start by reaching out to the rest of the European continent.
Or is this an English-speaking competition only?