Caption: Les Walker (left) receives his award from Nigel Edwards, England Golf Performance Director (image copyright Vicki Head)
Yorkshire’s Les Walker has a keen eye for golfing talent and he’s been honoured for his years of volunteer service as an England and GB&I selector.
Walker, from Selby Golf Club, received England Golf’s Award for Excellence in Coaching at the annual coaching conference at Woodhall Spa.
The 72-year-old want expecting the award and said, “Well I was a bit tongue tied as I had no idea about the award and I sort of flummoxed my lines a bit.”
He is renowned for his vast experience and encyclopaedic knowledge of boys’ and men’s golf. He’s got a great eye for spotting talent and has proved it over and over again by helping to pick successful teams, with players such as Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Paul Casey and Luke Donald among his selections.
Walker’s second term with the R&A has just come to an end after eight years as a boys’ selector and he bowed out after a convincing win for GB&I over Continental Europe in the boys’ Jacques Leglise Trophy, which involved five England players.
Prior to this he trawled the fairways as a Walker Cup selector and was involved with the winning teams of 1999, 2001 and 2003. “We changed the pattern, we turned it around to win three on the trot and we only lost the next two by very small margins,” he said.
He first became an England selector over 30 years ago and has been involved in many national successes. But he rather fell into the role when former Eisenhower Cup player Mike Kelley from Scarborough was asked to join the selectors but declined and recommended Walker.
Westwood was one his first picks although at the time he was playing second fiddle to Michael Welch from Hill Valley. “Michael had the most talent and was something of a boy wonder and Lee’s swing was a bit mechanical-I suppose it still is to some extent- but he just had that look of determination about him.
The list of players continued with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Andy Sullivan, Ross Fisher, Chris Wood and Yorkshire’s own Richard Finch and Simon Dyson.
“Rory was the most talented but the most determined was Luke Donald. Like Westwood he had an inner strength and I like that in a golfer.
Walker is continuing as an England boys’ selector and most recently has played his part in picking the teams which have won the Boys’ Home Internationals for the last three years.
“I have to say that I enjoy boys’ golf the most. There’s a better atmosphere because the parents and grandparents get involved. Sadly, very few people watch top amateur golf anymore which is puzzling to me as you see some of the future stars on some of the best courses in the UK.
“We have a very, very strong squad and they are young, so we have them for more years than we used to,” he commented as he looked forward to more successes.
Walker has his own proud record as player, having represented Yorkshire 178 times, winning 103 matches and halving 18. “It’s a good ratio,” he commented, viewing his record from a selector’s point of view! “It shows the lads that I have some expertise, that I did peg it up!”
“But it was different back then. I didn’t make my debut until I was 25 but now players might only play until they are 18 or 19 before they turn pro or are lost to the game.”
He maintained a handicap of scratch for over 20 years despite having to look after herds of cattle on the farm he took over from his Dad whom he caddied for before getting the bug himself.
It’s worth pointing out that there were only a handful of scratch golfers during those times as the handicap system was way more demanding, and he was in august company with the likes of Walker Cup players Rodney Foster (Bradford), Kelly and England international Billy Smith who played out of the now defunct West Bowling Golf Club.
“Rodney and Mike were both great players, as was Billy, and I used to play and travel a lot with Howard Clark who was also very talented but the best player I ever came across was Peter McEvoy. “
McEvoy is the closest you will get to Mr Walker Cup having played and led GB&I to victory in 1999 and 2001 which was the first time the team had achieved successive wins, before becoming chairman of selectors.
The two have become close friends and Walker said: “Peter has been very instrumental in our success in the Walker Cup and his contribution should never be underestimated. “
Despite his tremendous record for the White Rose county he never represented his country although he did receive recognition following some notable performances at national level which included a fourth-place finish in the Lytham Trophy, reaching the quarter finals of the Amateur and a “few good finishes in the Brabazon and the English. “
“But nerves used to get to me too much and my epitaph will probably read ‘always there on a Friday but rarely on a Saturday!’”
He admits that he was not the most dedicated when it came to practising but would change that in a heartbeat if he had his time again.” If I was just starting out, I would hit balls until my hands were covered in blisters and I would also seek out the best coaching possible.
“I had a very orthodox grip and set up and a simple swing which obviously worked but didn’t need much coaching, but back then we were left to our own devices.
“The coaching available now the players who make the England squads is second to none and I’m in admiration of the work being done with England Golf by two fellow Yorkshiremen Graham Walker and Steve Robinson. “
This is the latest in a long list of accolades for Yorkshire golf and Union secretary Jonathan Plaxton added: “I first Les whilst a member of Selby Golf Club in the mid 1970’s. His Dad (Les Walker Snr) had suffered from Polio as a youngster and would lean on a specially adapted trolley as he walked 18 holes and took money off most of his opponents! Les Walker Jnr inherited the genes of a very determined and competitive Dad would be my opinion!
“On the golf course Les enjoyed a great partnership with John Whiteley (Pontefract) and their foursomes record was terrific. He won more than one hundred singles games and became very well-known across the northern counties as a stalwart of the Yorkshire scene. His focus was always the game and I believe he learned his winning craft through observation of others which ultimately gave him the perfect qualification to be a selector at national and international level.
“Les can be very persuasive and his knowledge of the game combined with this resulted in him winning over the doubters in many a selection meeting. The result of the teams with which he was involved in selecting speaks for itself. England Golf and The R&A plus many successful professional golfers owe a debt of gratitude to Les.
“He has travelled a lot (far beyond the boundaries of his beloved Yorkshire) and helped identify many golfers at a critical stage in their development such that opportunities to further progress their game and ultimately careers in golf came about.
“Finally, he is great company and far too good at playing cards for my liking! I sincerely hope that he can be persuaded to get involved in the county scene once again now that some of his international responsibilities have been relinquished.”