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The best USA Walker Cup team ever?

Charles Coe and Harvie Ward held the Walker Cup after the American team beat Great Britain and Ireland. Central Press/Getty Images

Though he hasn't been an amateur golfer all his life, former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman still talks like a man committed to the habit of playing the game simply for the love of it. At 73 years old and almost two decades removed from his storied 20-year career as the top boss of the PGA Tour, the Bethesda, Md., native still plays golf every day. Not long ago, he says, he shot a 62, a score that might lead any golfer to feats of grandeur.

"If I could hit the ball 30 or 40 yards longer," said Beman, who averages about 230 yards off the tee, "there isn't a guy that you saw on TV at the Deutsche Bank Championship that could beat me."

"The equipment must really be a big help," I said.

"Now you're insulting me," he said. "The equipment has actually hurt me. You don't play in vacuum. You play golf against people.

"The equipment is so forgiving today that players do not have to have the kind of good golf swings that we had to learn to play with in the '50s and '60s. If you watch golf on TV on the weekend, what you see is a bunch of guys who can hit it 300 yards but can't hit the green with an 8-iron."

In 1959, Beman was part of one of the greatest Walker Cup teams in history. When their amateur careers were done, the team had a combined record of 48-11-6. Yet this was a unit that wasn't supposed to form. In the previous 16 matches, there had never been a squad loaded with so many young rookies: Tommy Aaron, 23; Ward Wettlaufer, 23; Beman, 21; and a 19-year old Jack Nicklaus. The older guys -- Billy Joe Patton, Billy Hyndman, Bud Taylor, Harvie Ward and the team's playing captain, Charlie Coe -- were golfing royalty.

Patton had missed getting into a playoff by a shot with Ben Hogan and Sam Snead at the '54 Masters. Coe had beaten Aaron 5 and 4 the previous year for his second U.S. Amateur title -- his first coming in '49, when Nicklaus was 9 years old. Ward had won back-to-back U.S. Amateurs in '55 and '56. All five of the players had been in previous Walker Cups.

The rookies had shown splashes of greatness, but many believed that it was too many of them to suit up for a tournament of this magnitude.

"At the time, it was pretty unheard of to pick four very young guys for a team," Beman said. "No one knew quite what to expect. The conventional wisdom before we showed up was that we had too many inexperienced players."

Since the matches began in 1922 at the National Golf Links on Long Island, N.Y., the Americans had only lost one cup -- the '38 matches when the Great Britain and Ireland side beat a team led by Francis Ouimet 7.5-4.5 at the Old Course at St. Andrews -- but this was going to be a breakthrough year for the GB and I team.

Ward had lightened things by giving his teammates nicknames. He named himself "E. Mickey Mouse," Coe was "Wyatt Earp," Patton was "White Lightning," Hyndman was "Praying Mantis," Taylor became "Bulldog Drummond," Aaron was "Cotton Mouth," Wettlaufer "Baby Fats," Beman was "B-B Eyes" for his intensity on the course, and before he became the "Golden Bear," Nicklaus was "Snow White."

The team played bridge and wagered a few dollars on the golf course. Coe was probably the best at bridge, and Nicklaus was the worst, though he was very competitive, Beman said. A year or two later in the locker room at the Masters, Beman and Nicklaus played Patton and Coe in a game.

"Jack bid a spade 8," Beman said, "but you can only bid 7 in bridge. It was funny as hell to see him try to do that."

There have been more talented teams, but none before or since had the good fortune of introducing Nicklaus to the international golf scene.

On a May afternoon before the start of the '59 matches at the Muirfield Golf Club on the east coast of Scotland, the four U.S. rookies went out to play golf while their five older teammates took a nap. Local writers and club members followed them as they played a 6,800-yard course that dates to 1744. The 11th hole at Muirfield was a short par 4. Beman and Aaron hit their tee shots in the fairway. Nicklaus stepped up and almost drove the green. Playing next, Wettlaufer reached the green with his drive.

"A bunch of writers and club members turned around to each other and said, 'We don't need to watch anymore. We're not going to win this year. Let's go get a drink,'" remembers Beman. "That was the first time that these guys had gotten a close look at Jack Nicklaus. He definitely got their attention."

Beman had been raised in Maryland playing lots of golf courses that favored the conditions in Scotland.

"Playing in the '40s and '50s, there were a lot of golf courses without watered fairways," he said. "You played a lot of run-up shots, bump and runs. Golf wasn't played fully through the air like it is today. So it wasn't a big transition for me. It was certainly links golf magnified for us, but it wasn't foreign to us."

The rookies played well and the U.S. team beat the formidable GB and I side 9-3. Coe mixed the young guys with the veterans, and the team played as one. Most notably, Nicklaus went unbeaten in foursomes and singles.

"On paper they looked to be a fairly strong side," wrote the great golf writer Herbert Warren Wind, "but at Muirfield they showed themselves to be one of the most formidable teams we have ever sent to Britain."

All but Wettlaufer, who worked in a family business in Buffalo, N.Y., from that group of rookies went on to have distinguished professional careers. Aaron won the 1973 Masters, but he is also known for writing down the wrong score that ultimately cost Roberto De Vicenzo the chance to win the Masters when the Argentine signed an incorrect scorecard. In September 1959, Nicklaus beat Coe, his Walker Cup captain, 1-up in the 36-hole final at the Broadmoor in Colorado for the first of his two U.S. Amateurs.

By the time Beman turned pro in 1967, he had won two U.S. Amateurs, a British Amateur and had played on four Walker Cup teams, amassing a 7-2-2 record. He also won four times on the PGA Tour, yet he is better known for his years as the PGA Tour boss. Earlier this year he published a book -- "Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force: The Inside Story of the Man Who Transformed Professional Golf into a Billion Dollar Business."

"If you want to understand how the PGA Tour was able to do a new nine-year TV deal during a recession and when its best player isn't playing well, you need to read the book," he said. "It's all in there."

Yet before he was "Golf's Driving Force", he was B-B Eyes, a 21-year old University of Maryland dropout on the 1959 Walker Cup team.

"As a kid, you didn't look forward to being on a Ryder Cup," Beman said. "You looked forward to being on the Walker Cup team."

At 33, Nathan Smith, a wealth adviser and three-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion from Pittsburgh, is the oldest member of the U.S. Walker Cup team that will meet the Great Britain and Ireland squad beginning Saturday for the 43rd matches at the Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland. Smith is 11 years older than the next oldest players on the team -- Harris English and Russell Henley, 22-year old Georgia natives. The oldest player on the Great Britain and Ireland side is 24-year old Andy Sullivan from England. Rhys Pugh of Wales is just 17.

The world of amateur golf that Beman and Nicklaus were born into is a thing of the past. English and Henley, who have both won on the Nationwide Tour this summer, will turn pro after the matches. Of the American players, Smith is the only one likely to still be an amateur in five years. There is a lot of money in the game -- incentives to turn pro that weren't available to players in the '50s and '60s.

"Back then, unless you were a very significant player, there weren't more than a handful of guys who could afford to make it on tour," Beman said. "If you did, you played 30 to 35 tournaments a year.

"But more than anything, Jack and I and others came to the realization that unless you pursued the game full time as a professional, you could not reach your ultimate potential."

Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at evans.espn@gmail.com.