By Nick Totten for europeantour.com
Raymond Russell is one of 12 former Walker Cup players in the field this week at the Open Blue Green Côtes d'Armor Bretagne and he revelled in looking back at an unorthodox beginning to his only appearance for Great Britain & Ireland in 1993.
These days the event is one of the biggest on the golfing calendar, and draws huge crowds both at the venue and around the world on television. It is bound to be the same this weekend too, as both teams return to the host venue for the inaugural Walker Cup matches in 1922, the American National Golf Links in New York.
For Russell and his team mates though, it was a slightly different start to proceedings than they might have expected across the pond. However, the Scot took great pleasure in retelling a story that few would believe, on the eve of such an important event.
“What would be my first memory of the Walker Cup?” asked Russell out loud to himself, a wry grin across his face. “Well, it would have to be of eating hamburgers in the basement of the people who were hosting us, an hour and a half before my tee time!”
Not quite the answer you might expect, when the majority of people would no doubt hark back to the size of the crowds, the intense atmosphere, or a fantastic experience. The 1996 French Open winner, however, seemed to take great pleasure in remembering such an amusing mix up some twenty years after the fact.
“We were playing pool, and eating burgers,” explained the 41 year old Scot. “There was a mix up in the communication, as we were told to be back for a time, and that was the wrong one.
“I remember being at the golf course, and we passed the American boys in the lift. We were all in our uniforms, and they were all in shorts. We’d been told to get to the golf club at seven, but we didn’t play until one, so I remember everyone lying around the locker room in our players’ lounge, sleeping and then going for burgers, before rushing around like a load of idiots. That’s what I remember.”
Fond memories for Russell, no doubt made fonder by the end result in Pennsylvania, a rare highlight in a year when the United States romped to a 19-5 victory over the relatively youthful GB & I team.
The golf course was like something they had never seen before, and that, alongside the fact that they were playing a very experienced home side, made for a difficult two days of competition.
“We got annihilated that year,” admitted Russell. “They had a great team to be fair, with great amateurs like Jay Sigel and John Harris, as well as Tim Herron, Justin Leonard and Brian Gay. So it was a really strong team and I think ours was one of the youngest ever, with only one player over 21 or 22 years old.
“I would have thought the atmosphere and the event are much bigger now, but the atmosphere our year was brilliant, and come the second day the course was packed.
“It was a fantastic golf course and we had never seen anything like it. The boys will be getting different preparations now, but there were huge slopes on the greens, they were so quick, and we had never played somewhere like that. Well I definitely hadn’t.”
Regardless of the result though, the Scot cherishes his experience across the pond at the pinnacle of amateur golf. However, it is interesting to note that he was part of the first generation of Walker Cup players to turn professional en mass, as previously the majority would often stay as career amateurs.
Nowadays it is a given that the stars of both teams will turn professional quite soon after the event is over, with many doing it the following day, but Russell believes that this trend began back with his team, and those who represented GB & I two years previously in 1991.
“I wouldn’t swap it for the world, it was a great experience. We were at the start of the era where the guys on the team turned professional afterwards, as previously people played Walker Cups and often stayed amateur.
“Padraig (Harrington) was maybe one of the only ones on our team who stayed amateur to play in a few more matches, whereas I think a huge percentage of our team turned pro straight away. I think we were the first or second team to do that, whereas now it is more common.
“It was a great experience though, and we played the US Amateur the week after, which was great fun as well.”
The guys representing Great Britain & Ireland in New York this week will hope for a better result than that experienced by Russell and his teammates in 1993, but few could hope for finer memories or a longer career than that experienced by the Scot, who is still going strong out on the Challenge Tour twenty years later.