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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Furious rally hurtles Virginia to lead halfway through Potomac Cup

Maryland talked the talk early, but Virginia walked the walk late, riding gritty, clutch back nine performances by Adam McCaa, Vance Welch and Ross McIntosh to stage a furious rally and seize control of the Potomac Cup at the halfway point. With afternoon matches teeing off just after 3 PM, Virginia holds an 11-1/2 to 6/1/2 lead in this, the sixth annual golf battle between the states.

“We really need to do some work in the afternoon Captain’s Choice matches to be in position to make a move tomorrow in the singles” said Maryland Captain Jeff Sheehan. “We have some great leaders on this team, but we are being outplayed right now. There is a lot of talent on the other side.”

Maryland’s captains have led by example. Sheehan and Assistant Captain Pedro Carrasco opened the matches with a clarion call that thundered across Western Pennsylvania, trouncing Virginia co-captain McCaa and Jim Campbell 5&4. Maryland team members fed off the energy, jumping out to a 4-0 lead and looked to run away with the matches.

It was a precision jackhammer attack that lasered through the opposition and filtered down through the entire roster. Maryland newcomers Bill Mullikin and Terry Norrell won their morning match 3&2 and fellow newcomers Jason Masri and Brad Hankey routed Virginia’s more experienced team of Vance Welch and Doug Stump (career combined 14-10). Even much maligned Michael Kurtz (overall 4-8 record) - who weathered blistering heat from Virginia players who said “get him some sunscreen cause he’s gonna get lit up” – won a stunning victory over Superbowl winning Redskins running back Brian Mitchell and scratch golfer McIntosh

With Maryland’s rookies not only getting a taste of the competition early in the matches, but savoring their first victories and with the bottom of the order holding their end up, Maryland looked poised to dominate. “We were lucky to avoid losing five or even six” said Virginia Captain Steve Czaban.

But Virginia absorbed the body blows, riding experienced Cup players and gutsy play by its co-captain to surge to a tie at the end of day one and take command after the Saturday morning best ball matches.

McCaa and Scott Abell provided the catalyst for the run that surged Virginia to the lead, defeating Maryland marquis pairing Hankey and Masri.. “Scott helped me make a great par at the par-5 11th in the alternate shot yesterday” said McCaa with an almost grateful smile. “Scott is a rock for us. It gave us our first lead since the first hole. Then he hit a great shot on 14 from under a tree that couldn’t have been more than four feet off the ground and ran to the green saving us a much needed par.”

Then the scratch amateur competitors put the hammer down and brought Virginia into a tie by day’s end. McIntosh and captain Czaban (combined records 22-8-4) defeated Ron Thomas and Chick Hernandez 2&1. Amateur competitor and co-captain Vance Welch teamed with Jim Flynn for a 7&5 win over Tom Rhodes and Al Aldana (10-5 combined). As the sun set Friday, the matches were deadlocked 6-6.

Captain Sheehan’s morning strategy of paring players with their qualifier teammates which worked so well in the morning was abandoned. “I wanted to get guys a chance to play with some of the other teammates and see what new chemistry might develop. It may have made things a little tougher in the alternate shot format, but I thought the strokes we were getting might offset the unfamiliarity” he noted sourly.

It worked in only one match as Carrasco and Mullikin ripped through Virginia’s Doug Stump and Scott Inman. “Mullikin was a good partner. He worked well with me and we were able to execute well as a team from early in the match” added the colorful and affable Carrasco, known to his friends as “Speedy Gonzales” for his rapid fire chatter on and off the golf course.

“We better do something fast” added Marylander Ron Thomas. “The site of these donkeys posing for a victory picture makes me wanna puke.” His wasn’t the only acidic comment. “Four of these Virginia guys have radio shows (Czaban, McCaa, Mitchell and Flynn) and we will have to hear it for a year if they win” added Hernandez.

The Virginians took the ribbing in stride – mostly ignoring it - and surged through the Saturday morning Best Ball matches 5-1/2 to ½. Four of the matches were closed out before the 17th hole. Chris Huemmer and Jim Campbell led off the morning with a 3&2 upset of Hernandez and Rhodes setting the tone for the bloodletting. Team cornerstone Welch then teamed with Bill Polen for a 7&6 victory. Both McIntosh and Czaban also won matches in routs, paired with Abell and Stump respectively.

But such is the nature of this event, where 28 ordinary Joes are transmogrified into battle ready, tonka tough, rock ‘em sock ‘em robots, trading golf punches with reckless abandon and tireless passion. After all is said and done, win or lose, they go drink together. Only hockey can claim such comeradery as a handshake ceremony follows every bloody seven game playoff series.

Perhaps the best testimony to the comradery of the event occurred at the close of the Friday matches. With all six matches decided at or before the 17th hole, all twenty-eight players and one black clad, goateed journalist teed off in an impromptu twenty-nine man group en masse on the 18th hole and then swarmed in fourteen carts up the fairway in a winner-take-all, one-club challenge. With the sunlight rapidly fading and chatter in two different languages echoing though the fairways, “it looked like a giant swarm of salmon surging upstream” said Virginian Jim Campbell. “It was one of the most exhilarating experiences in my golf career.” “It looked like a runaway golf cart marathon” laughed another casual observer. “They looked like an army swarming over the battlefield, carts, clubs and guys everywhere yammering away. It was the most organized chaos I ever saw.”

84 Lumber Classic venue Mystic Rock at Nemacolin Resort hosts the Cup matches this year. The course also hosted last week’s Pennsylvania State Open. Media day play for the event showcased quick greens (11-11.5) on the stimpmeter and thick, well watered rough. Still, the wide fairways offer plenty of room off the tee, while shaved chipping areas offer short game masters multiple options greenside. Bump and run, pitch and check, flop, pitch or putt are all viable from around nearly every green.

The course has clearly lived up to its reputation as the premier resort in the Northeast. “This is a classic Pete Dye design with a lot of interesting contour in the greens and it’s in the best condition of any course I’ve played all year” said Virginia player Francesco Romano.


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