FARMINGTON, PA – A leaden slate sky greets the Potomac Cup organizers as they arrive at the media center for the Sunday morning singles matches. The Cup will be awarded today, rain or shine, but sporadic showers will interrupt the proceedings more than once. Arriving even before resort staff, early moring radio shows covering the event are bantering about the Sunday pairings. “Maryland has an uphill battle, but I’m still a little bit nervous” Virginia captain Steve Czaban says candidly.
Czaban’s misgivings may be overkill. Virginia holds a a commanding 14-1/2 to 9-1/2 lead with fourteen points left in today’s singles matches. With seven scratch golfers scattered throughout the pairings and two seasoned amateur competitors a the anchor -South African ex-pat Ross McIntosh and Vance Welch – Maryland must play over their heads through the entire roster to close the gap.
After the two squads split the Friday doubles matches 6-6, Virginia found another gear and took 5-1/2 points out of 6 in the Saturday morning best ball matches to surge to a five point lead. The teams splits the six Captain’s Choice matches.
“We put ourselves behind the eightball with those morning matches” Maryland Captain Jeff Sheehan says, bantering with his Virginia counterparts on the “Sportstalk 980” radio show as players being to filter into the parking lot. “But Czaban made the same mistake the Europeans did in the 1999 Ryder Cup saving his best for last. I sent out my best guys early to try and close this gap quickly. And they get lots of shots and Virginia’s early guys will be fighting that uphill. Par today is our friend” Sheehan says with both a smile and sincere determination. Sheehan has led by example, winning both matches in which he played and chirping in the Virginian’s ears at every oppurtunity.
Czaban and McCaa both take umbrage at this author’s prediction that they were underdogs in their matches – to Ron Thomas and Al Aldana respectively, but even Czaban admits his putting has been deeply suspect. “When it comes to putting, Czaban is a choking dog” jibes Sheehan starting the smacktalk all over again, this time over the air. Nevertheless, at this writer’s insistence, Czaban later headed over to the practice green to do the Phil Mickelson three foot “Circle of Death.”
Talk then turned to the Mystic Rock course setup. Its not your normal polite plain Vanilla comments, even though Director of Golf is partaking in the discussion. All involved in the tournament, from media to players to organizers agree, Mystic Rock offers something for everyone. Golf Course architecture experts love the course for its alternating shot pattern requirements and great routing. “No two holes run in the same direction and all four par threes play in different directions” notes Clark. McCaa, Flynn and I agree. “The greens have alot of contour and those chipping swales around the greens would make Donald Ross proud.” McCaa says with a frustrated smile. “The adventure is just beginning” Flynn adds.
Indeed, the chipping swales and devilish greens may keep the matches closer as average players have the option of putting or bumping to get close to the pin. That’;s the beauty of Mystic Rock, there is a right side to miss and a wrong side to miss and strokes can vanish in a heartbeat.
Rain pounds down outside ten minutes before the first tee time for the Sunday singles that will decide the Potomac Cup. Maryland players are shooting pool in the “Gentleman’s Locker Room” at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort’s Mystic Rock Course (which is bigger than many pro shops at daily fee facilities). Virginia Players are either watching the early morning PGA Championship coverage or preparing for when the weather moves through. “We’re gonna let it all hang out today” says Jim Campbell energetically. He may be sitting on an easy chair with his cap on his knee, but he is ready. “I wanna go out there right now. I know my opponent [Bill Mullikin] is a great player, but we are an even match, so turn me loose.” “We are absolutely gonna win echoed Doug Stump.
Virginia is in the driver’s seat. Virginia looks focused. Virginia has Maryland scrambling to survive. But now comes the time to close the deal.
Czaban himself can lead the charge. He tees off first match of the day against the colorful and confident Ron Thomas. While Sheehan fired a clarion call to open the matches by teaming with co-captain Pedro Carrasco for a rout win, triggering a 4-2 lead, but Czaban can fire the shot that signals the end. Then in matches 3-5 Virginia’s sends out three even-keeled pressure hardened veterans, Doug Stump, Jim Flynn and Chris Huemmer. The matches stand a good chance of being over even without Virginia anchors McIntosh and Welch firing a shot.
Maryland’s best chances come in the middle matches. The heart of the Maryland team, Jason Masri, a rookie having a solid first Cup and veteran Chick Hernandez preceed Al Aldana, Jeff Sheehan and Pedro Carrasco. “If the top of the order can survive, the heart of the order is solid” said John Rhodes optimistically. “Then its up to Brad [Hankey] and I.”
VIRGINIA 14.5 MARYLAND 9.5 with 14 points left.
SUNDAY PAIRINGS (w/Handicaps and singles records)
(C) Steve Czaban (9) Ron Thomas (0)
Bill Polen (7) Tom Bender (11)
Doug Stump (2) Chris Johnson (13)
Jim Flynn (6) Jeff Dame (7)
Chris Huemmer (3) Michael Kurtz (14)
Scott Abell (4) Jason Masri (3)
Dave Gudinas (3) Chick Hernandez (6)
Adam McCaa (1) Al Aldana (5)
Brian Mitchell (9) (C) Jeff Sheehan
Scott Inman (1) Pedro Carrasco (6)
Jim Campbell (14 Bill Mullikin (14)
Frank Romano (0) Terry Norell (14)
Ross McIntosh (0) John Rhodes (0)
Vance Welch (0) Brad Hankey (3)