Walker Cup Memories: Vinny Giles

b_VinnyGilesWCMemories --- Image shows Vinny Giles at the 1973 Walker Cup. (Copyright  
Besides winning two USGA titles, Vinny Giles also competed on four USA Walker Cup Teams. (USGA Museum) 

Two-time USGA champion Marvin “Vinny” Giles III (1972 U.S. Amateur and 2009 USGA Senior Amateur) competed in four Walker Cups for the USA in 1969, 1971, 1973 and 1975, with his teams going 3-1. Giles compiled an overall record of 8-2-3. In 1993 at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn., he captained the USA to the largest margin of victory (14 points) in the Walker Cup’s history (19-5).

When you look back at your Walker Cup experiences, what comes to mind?

Giles:  A lot of what I remember is the camaraderie, the people you were with and the experiences you had. When I was playing, we actually lost one [in 1971], which was kind of amazing back then because you were supposed to win. I had the same partner in alternate [shot] and the same partner the second two years. Steve Melnyk was my partner the first two years (1969 and 1971). He was a great partner. We had great camaraderie. And to me that’s what alternate shot (foursomes) is all about. I think Gary Koch and I in 1973 and 1975 had one of the great partnerships in alternate shot that there’s ever been.

What made your partnership so special?

Giles: We had really good chemistry with each other. And both of us had phenomenal short games. We were just convinced that we would never miss a putt.  When we played in 1973 at [The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.], I really felt that if I could get Gary inside of about 15 feet, we would make every putt. We almost did. We missed very few. In alternate shot [on Sunday], the GB&I team [of Rodney Foster and Trevor Homer] gave us about a 13-foot putt on 13 for a birdie. We were already dormie [5] and they had made bogey. But had we made [that putt], we would have been seven under par for 13 holes in alternate shot.

Gary Koch said that he was so nervous on the first tee on Saturday morning that he forced you to hit the first ball.

Giles: He was going to play odd [holes] and I was going to [start] on the even holes. But he said, “I can’t go [first]. I remember my first one that was played at Milwaukee Country Club [in 1969]. Melnyk was my partner and I was hitting the first shot and we were the first USA team out. The flag goes up and the whole nine yards, and I had just quick-hooked [my drive] off the first tee. The first hole had an elevated tee and you went down a walkway to the fairway. I said, “We’re OK partner, we have about a 50-yard walk away from the people.” And he said, “You son of a ….”

And you formed a lifetime friendship with Gary from those two competitions didn’t you?

Giles: He’s become one of my closest friends. We really got to be close. He was a client of our [sports-management] firm from the day he turned pro. I still do his NBC television contract. That’s how far we go. And that bond was formed in the early ‘70s [at the Walker Cup]. We had a lot of fun together. He’s as good as it gets.

Do you have any specific memories of your singles matches?

Giles: I had a phenomenal match with Michael Bonallack at Old Course at St. Andrews in 1971. It’s probably the most memorable singles matches that I have ever had. We were [all square] playing the 17th hole. That’s actually the Match that [the USA] lost [13-11]. Michael had about a 5-footer for par on the Road Hole. And I had hit my second shot behind the [Road Hole] Bunker. I tried to spin a shot over it and I hit it just off the side of the green near an old cinder path. I took out a sand wedge and just chopped at it. It came out, hit the pin and went in the hole [for a par]. Michael, who had no emotion at all, actually dropped his putter on the green. And then he didn’t even come close on his 5-footer [for par]. And I won the match, 1 up.

Then in 1973 [at The Country Club] I was playing Charlie Green. We had one of those matches that went back and forth where we were even or 1 up or 1 down. I was the first [singles] match out and we were actually losing the Match at the turn. And I made about a 12- to 15-footer for birdie on the last hole to halve the match. I sent a really good message back to everybody else, and we ended up winning the Match [14-10]. That was one of the best matches I ever had because someone had a critical putt on just about every hole. And I think every one of them was made.

You captained the team in 1993 to a huge victory at Interlachen Country Club. Was that a fun experience?

Giles: That was a lot of fun. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Back then, I was still somewhat contemporary. I still played a little bit with some of those guys like Allen Doyle, Jay Sigel, John Harris and Danny Yates. We had four mid-amateurs on that team. Danny, Jay Sigel and Allen Doyle … none of them had been pros at that point. John was a reinstated amateur. That was a great experience.

But you know it’s just like the Ryder Cup when they make all this hype about the captain and the assistant captains. It basically boils down to if you guys play well, we’ll win and if you don’t, they lose.

The only strategy involved is putting the foursomes together. That to me, with a few exceptions, boils down to chemistry more than talent. Some of them play exactly the same game and some of them play divergently differently. I put Jay Sigel, who was a long player and a very good ball-striker, with Kelly Mitchum, who was shorter, but had a phenomenal short game. So if it played out accordingly, Sigel was going to hit a majority of iron shots to the green and Kelly Mitchum, who was a wonderful putter, was going to do most of the putting. And they played beautifully.

Was it different playing the Walker Cup in the United States versus Great Britain?

Giles: Oh yeah. A lot different. The golf fans in Great Britain were horrible. They would cheer bad shots by us. They would physically get involved in the game. I saw a lot of funny things. In Milwaukee (1969), the British Team was staying in the clubhouse at Milwaukee Country Club. I actually think the crowd was on their side. They were underdogs and the members had probably gotten to know them better than our team. And I think they were actually pulling for them.

- David Shefter