Skip Berkmeyer doesn’t know what it feels like to be on a Ryder Cup team – or a Walker Cup team. That ship has probably sailed for the 46-year-old from St. Louis. But Berkmeyer’s ears perked up in 2019 when Scott Harvey, a former U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, voiced an idea that would mimic the concept.
Why not create a biannual team event within the U.S. for amateurs? Battle lines were drawn up the Mississippi River and the East West Matches were born.
“I was like man, I want to play. I want to be on that first team,” Berkmeyer said. “To make the team you have to play good golf, so that was a goal then. . . . It was always on my mind since he brought it up and we talked about it.”
Berkmeyer has played a supporting role in the creation of an event that Harvey, 42, ultimately brought to life. Similar ideas for a match pitting the most competitive amateurs, in all age brackets, against each other had stalled out at least twice before. A year and a half ago, Harvey decided it was time to make it happen.
“Mid-amateur golf has so many good players,” he reasoned. “It just felt like the right time to do it.”
The East West Matches will debut Nov. 6-8 at Maridoe Golf Club in Carrollton, Texas. The 18 best amateurs from east of the Mississippi will take on those from west of it in a mix of fourball, foursomes and singles matches.
Paul Simson and Tim Jackson will captain the East team while Jim Holtgrieve and Kevin Marsh will captain the West team. That’s a foursome with USGA starts in the triple-digits, and long resumes past that. They’ll be responsible for setting pairings before each of the three days of play – ideally in the most raucous way possible. The only caveat? No two players on any team can partner more than once.
“One captain is going to put up a pairing and then the other captain is going to match it with whoever he wants,” Harvey explained, “and let the trash talking begin, right?”
There are several chapters to this conception story, from Harvey’s initial push to the conversations about details – like team selection and format – to the week in July 2019 when Harvey played the Trans-Miss Championship at Maridoe and struck up a conversation with owner Albert Huddleston about making Maridoe the host site. The matches will come back there every other year.
Other voices emerged along the way, like that of David Nelson, a USGA committee member and a stiff player, who tried to bring a similar event to fruition at Bandon Dunes in 2001. It slid off the calendar after the Sept. 11 attacks and never was revived.
Nelson dug up old notes, invitations and logos for Harvey. They talked through Harvey’s new concept while playing the same tournament last fall.
Nelson, who qualified for the 1982 U.S. Open, among many other events, still plays, but he won’t travel to Maridoe this year. He’s already running the numbers on how he could qualify for future matches.
When Nelson, a longtime Nevada resident who recently moved to the Denver suburbs upon retirement, was trying to get the event off the ground in the early 2000s, part of the motivation was to address what he saw as a Walker Cup selection process skewed toward East Coast players as opposed to West Coast players.
“That was the main reason I was trying to get these East West Cup Matches, to showcase the West Coast guys against the East Coast guys and show that hey, we’ve got a lot of really good players out here,” Nelson said.
Recent Walker Cup squads have since had strong West Coast representation. In fact 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Stewart Hagestad, of Newport Beach, California, played on the last two teams. He’ll play this week on the West squad.
The time is now
After Brett Boner finished runner-up at the 2018 U.S. Mid-Amateur, it was like the door to an underground society opened. On a normal year, there’s no shortage of tournaments for mid-amateurs to play, all over the country.
Boner, 46, competed in the Coleman Invitational (Seminole Golf Club), Thomas Invitational (Los Angeles Country Club), Crump Cup (Pine Valley) and Jones Cup (Ocean Forest GC in Sea Island, Georgia) the next year and played both the 2019 and 2020 U.S. Amateurs.
He heaped the pressure on himself in those starts, though, and some of it had to do with his inability to close out Kevin O’Connell at the Mid-Amateur – played in his hometown of Charlotte. It has been a tough loss to get over.
“I was right there, I was playing good enough golf,” he said. “At this age, you kind of think, how many more opportunities are you going to get?”
The pandemic cut into the mid-amateur tournament circuit in 2020, which was a bit of a welcome break. The East West Matches “should be a total blast,” Boner says. They will be a little lighter. They will be about the connections in a pocket of the game into which Boner has been welcomed with open arms.
Boner lit up when he got the call from Harvey that he’d made the East team.
“I said Scott, when I was a kid I dreamed of playing in the Ryder Cup, and this is the closest thing I’ll ever get.”
And that’s the idea.
In designing the event, Harvey, Berkmeyer & Co., had several conversations about state events, the Walker Cup (Harvey played for the U.S. in 2015) and the Ryder Cup. The East West Matches always went back to that concept. But if there’s something they hope to prioritize the most, it’s relationships.
“Just the camaraderie of it all,” Harvey said. “Everybody seems to come together.”
The golf, Harvey says, is secondary.
“I think the best thing you want to do in golf is to have respect of your peers,” said Berkmeyer. “To go and get invited to this, to play in it and hopefully play well in it, whatever the result, that’s what you want to be a part of in the game of golf.”
You got options, kids
Four men in the field will come at this week from a different perspective. The East team includes U.S. Amateur winner Tyler Strafaci as well as John Pak, low amateur at the 2020 U.S. Open. Southern Amateur champion Mac Meissner and Western Amateur champion Pierceson Coody will play for the West.
Harvey recognizes that players of that caliber – and age – heighten the draw of the event. Younger players were always in the equation when Harvey was dreaming up these matches, he just didn’t know exactly who the players would be. He hopes they’re paying attention this week.
“This is the thought process: It’s a way to say if you turn pro, or even if you don’t turn pro, and things don’t work out, you can still play golf,” Harvey said. “There’s still things to play for, they don’t have to quit. This is an introduction to that world.”
None of the twentysomethings have had a normal college season because of COVID. None of the mid-amateur or senior players in the matches have lived a normal 2020, either. In that respect, this event couldn’t come at a better time.
“I think of all the years in mid-amateur or amateur golf that we need this event,” Berkmeyer said, “this is it.”