From his Playboy Mansion, Hugh Hefner had quite the view of the first day of the Walker Cup.
Indeed, the old rogue might even have paused tending to his coterie when he heard the cheers emanating from the Los Angeles Country Club, where the 13th green is adjacent to the nonagenarian’s famous residence.
The cries of “U.S.A, U.S.A” filled the air as the home side grabbed an 8-4 advantage. They romped the afternoon singles, “beating” Great Britain & Ireland 6-2 to bring revenge for their record defeat two years ago tantalisingly into focus.
Yet their domination was never more starkly exemplified than in the very first foursomes out in the morning.
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As the Amateur champion and European Amateur champion respectively, Harry Ellis and Alfie Plant were expected to provide a stern test for Collin Morikawa and Norman Xiong.
However, the young Americans rattled off four birdies in winning the first five holes and did not look back, shaking hands with their humiliated opponents on the 11th green.
It was a chilling start for Andy Ingram’s side and the startled expressions on the faces of the two Englishmen said it all. They had waited so long for this chance and then, before they really knew it, they were being forced to regroup.
“They’ll be even more determined this afternoon [in the singles],” Ingram said. “I told them ‘you don’t become bad players in 11 holes’.”
No you do not, but Plant – who won low-amateur honours at the Open Championship in July – and Ellis had discovered the hard way that the Walker Cup is an imposing event. And, for all its undoubted rugged beauty, the LA Country Club is such an imposing venue.
It is rated as sixth most exclusive golf club in the world; every other week in the year, outsiders are simply not welcome. As evidence, LACC apparently turned down Hefner when he attempted to join, presumably extending its strict “no movie star” policy to another area of the “entertainment industry”.
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But the world’s finest amateurs have been invited to play on fairways usually protected from the gaze of mere commoners, which has only added to their sense of occasion. As, naturally, has the appearance of President George W Bush.
This has not been the usual case of a politician – retired or otherwise - showing up for the publicity shots. The “W” in the name of the 43rd President stands for “Walker”. His great grandfather George Herbert Walker happened to be president of the United States Golf Association in 1920 when he helped devise the Transatlantic showdown.
The Bush family is rightly proud of the connection - with President George H Bush a regular at previous matches - and the presence of “Dubya” has thrown yet more prestige on this most esteemed of amateur weeks.
“My great grandfather’s friend Davis gave the Davis Cup, so he decided to give the Walker Cup,” President George W Bush explained. “It’s important for the game of golf that the traditions pass down the generations and so this does with my family. You know, it was a thrill to walk the holes with the US team and to have lunch with them. They are good, upright citizens who are representing the greatest country on earth.”
The President is credited with providing the speech on Saturday night which motivated the US Ryder Cup team to launch their resurrection at Brookline in 1999 and, inevitably, this time he has again ramped up the Starred-and-Striped fervour for a US team desperate to avenge the 2015 embarrassment at Royal Lytham.
“The President is the absolute role model; somebody who sacrificed eight years of his life to do everything he could to make the lives of 200-something million people better,” Maverick McNealy, the world amateur No 2, said. “He’s somebody that has represented his country to the fullest, and we get to do that in a much smaller way at the Walker Cup.”
McNealy certainly seemed inspired as he and Doug Ghim accounted for the Welsh pairing of David Boote and Jack Davidson 5&4. However, by then, Scotland’s Connor Syme and Ireland’s Paul McBride had struck for GB&I by beating Will Zalatoris and Doc Redmond 3&2.
And with another English pairing in Scott Gregory and Jack Singh Brar seeing off Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Champ 3&2, GB&I tied it up at 2-2 and so stopped America from “winning” their first foursomes session since 2009. “We got in a sticky situation I think we got out of it quite well, Gregory, the 2016 Amateur champion, said.
Alas, there was no escape route in the singles as only Brar Singh and Robert Macintyre – the Scot walloping Champ 6&4 – won their points. Ellis was one-up with three left against Braden Thornberry but lost the last three holes. It summed up Ellis’s day and the visitors’ afternoon.