It's not always easy to get to the Walker Cup

9/8/2007 - Golf

Hello, world.

John Buccigross here. Sometime ESPN Sportscenter anchor, sometime ESPN.com hockey columnist coming to you live, at least when I wrote this, from my hotel room of the Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland. I haven't seen Bono but I have had a Guinness.

I'm here announcing the 2007 Walker Cup with Andy North and Judy Rankin. The telecast is Sunday on ABC (2-4 p.m. ET). As a precursor and perhaps a postcursor, I will provided a few reports from Royal County Down. This is the first one.

I landed in Dublin at 5:30 in the morning this past Thursday. If "That 70's Show" was still on the air -- and if it is I apologize Mr. Demi Moore -- they could do any airport scene in Dublin's airport. I don't even know the name of the airport. It was small, dark and smelled like beef and cheese.

From there I rented a car in an attempt to get a round of golf in at Portmarnock, site of the 1991 Walker Cup. In Ireland, they drive on the opposite side of the road from what they do in the United States, Canada and from what I understand, Sweden. Another reason to love Sweden besides the women and Peter Forsberg. The steering wheel is also on the opposite side which I'm sure has a valid reason proven by Albert Einstein years ago. As I prepared to exit the rental car lot, a young man who resembled the lead singer in Dexy's Midnight Runners tapped on my window. It was 5:45 a.m. and I assumed he was here to take my wallet. It turns out he already had my wallet. I left it on the rental car counter. Relieved and grateful, I gave him a piece of U.K. money that had a 10 on it. I assume this was 10 pounds.

I don't know how much that was. It could have been the equivalent of 14 cents or $7,000. I didn't care. I had my wallet.

From there, off to Portmarnock -- but, not until I got a flat tire. You see, when the steering wheel is on the opposite side your entire equilibrium is off. I was drifting to the left, because the roads are narrow and cars tend to drift to the left, I think, because of the pitch of the road which is there for drainage. Right? Someone help me here. The Sherminator's confidence is not high right now. Well, I hit a curb, get a flat, and get to Portmarnock a little late. But, I get off the back 9 and away I got.

I will always be able to say I parred my first hole in Ireland. I love links golf. I love the firmness of the turf and the style of play it demands. I played well, making birdie on four of my last 10 holes, chipping in on 18 from behind the green. On one hole, I had 80 yards to the green, took out my putter, and putted it to 20 feet. Last January, at a course called "The New Course" at the Grand Cypruss Resort in Florida, I had 150 yards to the par-4 18th and hit putter to 15 feet and made the birdie putt.

You can literally do that on a links course.

From the round of golf, I turned a 90-minute ride to about a three-hour ride north to Newcastle. Once I got here, I had arrived in golfing heaven.

The Walker Cup is a two-day event, pitting amateurs from the United Stated against amateurs from Great Britain and Ireland. The countries play four alternate shot matches in the morning and eight single matches in the afternoon. There are ten players on each squad.

On Friday, I followed around the U.S. team to get a glimpse at their walks, their swings and their ballflights. And to walk Royal County Down. I haven't been to many great courses, but I have played a decent number of Top 100 courses that you see on various lists, and none equals Royal County Down. This is the finest piece of land and finest layout these eyes have seen.

All 10 players played nine holes in the morning and then four more moved on to the back. The weather was perfect. Sunny, little wind, and a temperature that felt like the upper 70s. It's been a rainy summer in Ireland, so the island was due for some good weather and it's been nice all week. The course is rock hard, especially the last 20 yards of fairway leading up to the green. Like noted above, you could easily putt the ball 150 yards with just a swing from hip to hip.

The one player who really impressed me for the U.S. squad was Rickie Fowler.

Fowler is 18 years old and on his way to Oklahoma State. Fowler has PGA Tour talent. His swing is reminiscent of Ben Hogan and Sergio Garcia: low hands and lots of lag. His hands are lightning fast which really helps in these deep bunkers. His swing speed appears to be 90-100 mph coming out of green side bunkers. He can be a little wild off the tee, which one can't afford to do at a links course, but can an eye on him this weekend. I would not be surprise to see him hit a big bunker shot to win a match and, who knows, maybe the entire Walker Cup.

I'll have more over the weekend.