Sweet Virginia! VA squanders gargantuan lead, rallies late to win 19.5 - 18.5 over Maryland in Potomac Cup
FARMINGTON, PA - Never, ever, EVER, pop the champagne early.
The Boston Red Sox learned that the hard way in 1986 against the New York Mets and the Virginia team can within a whisker of making the same mistake and surrendering the biggest comeback in Potomac Cup history.
With a 14.5 - 9.5 lead going into today's 14 singles matches and needing merely five points to win a third straight Potomac Cup and fourth in six years, the singles matches fluctuated around the break even point - 7-7 - for most of the day. Maryland surged as high as 8.5 - 5.5, but leads were worthless all day as the singles matches saw the largest number of swings between individual games the whole weekend.
But as most matches approached the latter half of the back side and with Virginia winning at least four and even in four more Steve Czaban made a call he almost regretted. Spurred by the assembled media, Czaban ordered the Cup filled with not champagne, but candy. Czaban sought to finally return a running jibe of Team Maryland who received many handicap strokes - jokingly referred to as "Candy" by Maryland Captain Jeff Sheehan. Sheehans players marked balls with M&Ms and tossed Junior Mints to their opponents on tee boxes before matches.
"The idea was too eat candy out of the Cup just to stick it in and twist a little" said a relieved Czaban after all was said and done. When the call was made to the pro shop to make ready the trophy, staff asked if the candy should be opened and placed in the Cup. "Yes" said Czaban, even though he still meeded two more points to secure the win.
And then the comeback began. Maryland tied the matches twice and briefly hald the lead before bowing late.
Losing big all day, Maryland's Chris Johnson made three straight birdies to tie his match with Virginia veteran Jim Flynn. An elated Johnson won outright on 18 and through his arms skyward in triumph. "It was such a terrific comeback, I feel no shame whatsoever in losing" said a truly sincere and gentlemanly Flynn. "He played so well on the last holes, he really deserved to win." Ron Thomas, who blew a lead to Czaban as late as 14 rallied over the last holes to scrape out a win. John Rhodes won the match of his life, besting seasoned amateur competitor Ross McIntosh of Virginia 2&1.
It seemed the curse of the champagne was about to lay another tombstone in the graveyard of overconfident favorites.
Victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat by the most unlikely of figures. Although the score in matches already finished was 18.5 - 13.5, every other flag on the board but one was Maryland red. The fate of the Commonwealth rested on the shoulders of Cup rookie Scott Inman, locked in a fearsome battle with firebreathing and inspiring Maryland co-captain Pedro Carrasco. Known to his teammates as "Speedy Gonzales" for his rapid fire chatter, Carrasco had rallied his troops time and again all weekend, leading by example and crafting a 2-1-1 record in the matches until the singles.
Undaunted, Inman calmly rolled in a short putt on 15 and closed out the match. Ever the sportsman, a smiling Carrasco was the first to congratulate him.
The humble Inman, who later said "It was my first rodeo and I'm just grateful I didn't get bucked off," was named the tournament's most outstanding player - called the Hardy Award after the Nemacolin Resort owner Joe Hardy whose Mystic Rock course hosted the three-day matches. In his first cup, Inman was 3-1-1 overall record for the weekend and sank the Cup winning putt, enabling him to come and claim the Cup from Resort Director of golf Dennis Clarke in the presentation ceremony.
"We have nothing to hang our heads over" said an upbeat Sheehan after the loss. "We dug ourselves a hole, but we got out of it with pride and hard work. Every point is crucial when you need them all and we just needed one too many."
The upbeat tenor was echoed by fellow Maryland teammates John Rhodes and Tom Bender. "We have alot to be proud of. We're going to come back and win this thing. Next year begins tomorrow."
Virginians Vance Welch (3-1 record this year), Bill Polen, Chris Huemmer, and Doug Stump also won the crucial matches to enable Virginia to reach the 19.5 points goal to win their third straight Cup. The 19.5 - 18.5 final score ties last years 18.5 - 17.5 result for the closest Cup in tournament history.
Pictures: Top: Victorious Team Virginia celebrates with the candy filled Potomac Cup. Below: Wave that flag! Wave it wide and high! Bill Polen is wrapped in the Virginia flag while Scott Abell and a Potomac Cup fan signal Virginia's triumph.