Walker Cup Memories: John Harris

 WCMemoriesNewHarris --- Image shows John Harris (right) during the 1997 Walker Cup
Winning back the Walker Cup in 1997 was extremely emotional for John Harris, who produced a 4-1-2 overall record in four appearances. (USGA/John Mummert) 

John Harris, the 1993 U.S Amateur champion, was a member of four USA Walker Cup Teams (1993, 1995, 1997 and 2001), producing an overall record of 4-1-2. The former University of Minnesota standout in both ice hockey and golf was on winning USA Teams in 1993 and 1997.

You were a member of the 1993 USA Team that produced the largest margin of victory in Match history (14 points) at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn., and were also playing in your backyard, what was that like?

Harris: It was great. It really was a culmination of a nice goal. I played with Tim Herron, who [also] is from here [in the Minneapolis area]. We had Jay Sigel and Allen Doyle leading the team and Justin Leonard was the best amateur in the world at the time. It was a strong time. Vinny Giles was our captain and he opened the first meeting with, “I have the 10 best amateurs in the world on my team and I wouldn’t take one guy off their team and put him on our team. The hardest job I am going to have this week is sitting somebody.”

And obviously your team lived up to those lofty expectations?

Harris: It was a very difficult golf course that we were more used to. It didn’t have any [features] that felt like a British-style [links] course. And they were very young; they’re oldest player was probably 21 or 22 years old. I think Padraig [Harrington] was 17 at the time. Iain Pyman was the British Amateur champion at 20 or 21. So they were good and talented, but they were just inexperienced.

That was also your first Walker Cup. What was that like for you personally, playing at home in front of family and friends?

Harris: I was very proud. It was satisfying to make the team. Danny Yates and Jay Sigel and Allen Doyle had all played before. They were great mid-amateur mentors, and I think the kids [on the team] had a good time. We had a nice bunch of young players on the team who listened to Jay and Allen and frankly Vinny as well. It was beautiful blend of experience, talent and young players. We were well prepared for what was about to happen.

Does any particular match stand out for you, whether it be 1993 or another Walker Cup?

Harris: Everyone has very unique memories. I’ve been very blessed to play a lot of individual and team sports and standing at the flag-lowering ceremony at Royal Porthcawl in Wales [after the 1995 14-10 defeat] was the most humbling experience I’ve ever been at in any sporting event I’ve ever been at. The screaming and the ‘Ole, ole’ … it wasn’t funny. It had rained four inches during the day. It was embarrassing. It was hard to take. It was way over the top. I remember standing there thinking, “How did we let them get five points at Interlachen? And at Quaker Ridge [in 1997], 23-1 isn’t going to be enough.” I turned to the president of the USGA (Reg Murphy) and said, “You give [A.] Downing [Gray Jr.] another chance and you let anybody on this team who wants to play and stays amateur, and I guarantee you we will win.”

That 1997 USA squad avenged that defeat at Quaker Ridge with an 18-6 victory. Was that sweet redemption?

Harris: Every guy who stayed amateur from that team played [in 1997]. We couldn’t get enough points at Quaker Ridge to get that [bad] feeling out of our system. So it was a nice learning experience there [in Wales]. And then Quaker Ridge was great. It was very similar to Minneapolis. We had a wonderful team with a bunch of young guys balanced with some mid-amateur players. And then we went to Ocean Forest [in 2001] and it wasn’t as good again. But their team was better. They had more American college players. The golf course wasn’t an advantage for us. We had a nice team, but we didn’t have a standout player, and we got behind early. The crowd was kind of out of the Match, the momentum went the wrong way and we ended up getting beat [15-9].

That 2001 Great Britain and Ireland Team turned out to have some real future stars in Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell.

Harris: I went out and played Luke and Graeme in a foursomes match. It was one of the best days I’ve had in all my Walker Cup experiences and we got beat. They were young, but they were good, and they were very determined.