2011 Walker Cup: Royal AberdeenKansas Golf Association veteran Andy Smith says he didn’t serve “an official role within the USGA” at 2011 Walker Cup Matches held Sept. 10-11 at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland.
But you can bet the Kansas Citian, and three-time defending KGA Senior Team champion, was plenty involved as a team of American amateurs captained by Smith’s longtime friend and business associate Jim Holtgrieve took on their Great Britain and Ireland counterparts.
The biennial Walker Cup Match is an international amateur team competition between 10 players from the United States and 10 from Great Britain and Ireland. The Match consists of 18 singles matches and eight foursomes (alternate-shot) matches over the two days of competition.
The Great Britain and Ireland Team dominated foursomes play 6-2 at Royal Aberdeen, then held on during the second afternoon’s singles play and won the 2011 Match in by a score of 14-12. The USA leads the series, 34-8-1.
Kansas Golfer Online recently had a chance to talk with Smith, the 2007 KGA Senior Player of the Year, about his Walker Cup experience, including the golf he played in Scotland and whether he’d part of the 2013 Walker Cup effort if asked. The USGA has already named Holtgrieve, a three-time Walker Cup winner as a player, as U.S. captain for the event to be played at the historic National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y.
KG Online: Can you tell us a little more about your relationship with Jim Holtgrieve?
Smith: “Jim and I were business associates in St. Louis for 20 years. We were very involved in the transition of the company his father started. Jim became president and I became vice president of Holtgrieve and Co. We were very involved in the manufacturing part of the world, supplying all kinds of products, steel, aluminum and rubber products to manufacturing plants in the Midwest. We have been longtime friends.
“In addition to that, I’ve been Jim’s part-time caddie and swing guru while he was on the Senior Tour. I spent considerable time, for about a five-year period, doing a little traveling with Jim and participating in his role on the Senior PGA Tour.”
KG Online: Did you have any previous experience with the Walker Cup?
Smith: “The only experience I had, I had seen a Walker Cup that Jim had played in back in the ‘70s out in Cypress Point. I really enjoyed seeing what I call ‘the basis of golf’ -- which is amateur golf at its purest -- at that point in time at a beautiful golf course in Cypress. And I saw, what I think still to this day is Jim’s greatest shot, a 1-iron on the 16th hole at Cypress against Ronan Rafferty. He knocked it on the green to beat Rafferty and win the Walker Cup. It was the winning point. From that standpoint, it was the only experience I’d had with the Walker Cup but it is a wonderful form of true golf.”KG Online: What were your initial impressions of Royal Aberdeen?
Smith: “It’s up in the northern part of Scotland. It’s a majestic, links-style golf course. It sits right on the North Sea. As far as beauty it rivals, and in my mind, exceeds Pebble Beach. The golf course is pretty much a traditional Scottish golf course with deep bunkers and heather and rolling fairways that are very fast.”
KG Online: What was your role during the competition?
Smith: “I helped Jim from time to time with things such as pairings, discussing the golf course and the strengths and weaknesses of pairing certain golfers together. It was more of an honorary position over there. But I got a very first-hand look at everything and being with the guys from time to time, it was a fabulous experience from that standpoint.”
KG Online: Can you talk about the foursomes matches that saw the U.S. side dig a 6-2 hole for itself?
Smith: “…both mornings, are dedicated to foursomes. As we all know foursomes is very difficult -- alternate shot in its purest form. …since we don’t play it over here in the United States very often we seem to struggle with it. We struggled with it in the morning the first day and the second day. They won six matches and we won two. It’s a very tough (format).
“In talking to the people in Scotland, foursomes is played on Saturday afternoons in every club in Scotland, whether you’re at Muirfield or Royal Aberdeen or Troon or at any of those wonderful golf courses over there. It’s very much a fun game to play over there on a Saturday. It’s a game that’s very native to England/Scotland... Obviously they played very well.
“What I saw the first day were very close matches. The differences were the UK side took advantage by making some very key putts. They play what I call ‘Scottish golf’ very well. They keep the ball on the ground. I still think our guys know one form of golf and that’s get the ball in the air and I think that’s a major difference over there on Scottish links golf courses. I thought we had an outstanding team, but as we all know, in match play it’s one shot, one putt. There is a very minute difference between winning and losing.”
KG Online: And the afternoon of the second day saw the Americans come up just a bit short in singles play…
Smith: “The singles matches were incredibly exciting. There were a number of matches that got to the 18th hole and a couple key putts were made. I thought the difference in the matches was Patrick Cantlay had a very unfortunate break on the 15th hole, lost the hole, then won the final three holes. Had he won his match it would have been all tied up.
“Again, I thought the major difference in the singles matches was the Great Britain and Ireland team made a significant comeback on the back side which seemed to be a big bugaboo for the U.S. guys. I thought the GB&I side played extremely well on the back side every match, especially on the closing holes which were very difficult. There were some very exciting shots. Seventeen was a little, short par 3 and they made two or three birdies in the singles when they were down to take matches either back to even or from even to 1 up.
“The putting, I thought the GB&I boys putted better than we did. I thought we put ourselves behind the eight ball losing so many of the foursomes matches.”
KG Online: The competition ended on 9/11. What was it like being part of the American effort on that special day?
Smith: “The U.S. guys had a specially designed hat with a patch that commemorated 9/11. There was a special letter that was written by (President George Bush) that was delivered to the U.S. team that was read. There was a moment of silence for both squads on the first tee and it was certainly a day of remembrance for all those people that sacrificed their lives to give us the even greater freedom. I think it was well done by both sides. The GB&I team all wore ribbons. So I really thought, even in the midst of a competition that’s fun, we remembered the great history of the United States even through the tragedy of 9/11.”
KG Online: Did you get to take out your clubs?
Smith: “I did. I played a lot of little courses over there, a lot of local courses over there. We did play the course where they held the Solheim Cup. We didn’t get to play Royal Aberdeen. I will say this in general about the Scottish golf courses, you take a look at Scotland and it would fit inside the state of Kansas and there’s 500 golf courses. They are all designed to be walked. They are all designed (so they can) all play fast over there. I was with two of my friends and we carried our clubs almost every day. We did have a couple caddies. But we enjoyed the Scottish experience.
“We played at this little place in Dundee, which is close to St. Andrews, called Caird Park. It was built in the 1800s…the flagstick was a flag and a stick. There were no rakes for the bunkers. There was a tee box on every (hole). But it was truly a beautiful, majestic golf course. It was well-conditioned. But it was truly what golf is all about. People would go up and pay their 12 pounds at the little starter shack and to me it was great to just get out there and play among the Scottish people. We played with some of them and they were quite enjoyable. They’d tell us about the golf courses, the experiences and the history. To me, that’s what we saw over in Scotland, the history of golf.”
KG Online: Holtgrieve has already been named captain for the 2013 team. Are you interested in getting involved again, this time at a historic course on Long Island?
Smith: “It’ll be at the National Golf Links where the very first Walker Cup was played in 1922 I believe. I would love to be more involved. What we saw over there, we were able to follow (play) literally right behind the golfers. They only sold 5,000 tickets. It wasn’t like I had to park eight miles away. I parked two blocks from Royal Aberdeen. The people were majestic. The No. 1 thing I will recall about going to the Walker Cup over there was I didn’t hear the phrase “You’re the man!’ once. They respect golf the way it is and I hope we return the favor in ’13.
“I can assure you one thing, Jim enjoyed the experience. We’ve had several glasses of wine to talk about the experience and he has no regrets. I thought the boys competed well. It’s a matter of making a putt or two in a match play event. (Holtgrieve) wants to be more involved in the selection process of his team for ’13 and he certainly wants to win it over here on U.S. soil. I would look forward to any involvement in the 2013 Walker Cup. I think the Walker Cup is a great experience.”