Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Potomac Cup Preview - 2010
They say in match play, you should always assume your opponent will hole out their next shot.
Even if they are 200 yards away in the fairway?
In match play, nothing is quite as devastating to an opponent, or pivotal to a match, as the “dramatic reversal.” The kind of hole where one team is cruising to an easy win, only to be dealt a stinging loss by a shot that seems impossible. Or events that quickly spiral out of control.
The last time the Cup finals were held at Rocky Gap, “dramatic reversals” were all over the place.
Some have even become Cup legend.
Like 2004, where Bryant Hatcher and Chick Hernandez were playing Sunday singles. An all-square match came to the narrow, danger filled par-5, 15th hole. Hatcher proceeded to blow two balls out of play off the tee. One left, one right.
Hernandez responded with a sensible, but rather timid iron into the fairway. Hatcher was seemingly dead man walking, but he finally put his third ball in play.
Next thing you know, Hernandez is bunting his ball up the fairway, and four-putting to lose the hole, 9-8. It happened so quickly, it left both men stunned. Hatcher laughed out loud at the absurdity of it all, not out of any lack of sportsmanship.
Hernandez could only sulk back to his cart in shock.
Likewise, Tod Castleberry and Michael Kurtz were playing Sunday singles in 2005, when Castleberry proceeded to blast two balls out of play on the brutal and lengthy 470 yard par-4, 3rd hole.
A seeming easy hole victory about to ensue, Kurtz strode to his tee shot and lashed a 3-wood toward the hole. Castleberry arrived moments later, looked down at “his” 3rd tee shot, sitting 5, and had a stunning revelation.
Kurtz had mistakenly hit Castleberry’s ball. Match play rules: loss of hole.
Shaken, Kurtz struggled the rest of the front nine, and ended up losing 7&6.
The 7,002 yard Jack Nicklaus layout at Rocky Gap will more than likely produce quite a few stunning reversals during this weekend’s 10th Annual Potomac Cup matches. However, the reversals are more likely to be outstanding golf shots, not gaffes and blunders.
The Potomac Cup was formerly a combination gross/net event, which brought into the team mix amateurs with handicaps ranging from zero to as much as 18. Now that it is an all gross affair, the caliber of play has soared.
This year’s Potomac Cup Finals will feature a record 10 players with a "plus" handicap of better than scratch. An additional five players have direct experience with this Nicklaus layout from previous Cups at Rocky Gap.
One of those players is Maryland stalwart Vance Welch, playing in his record 7th Cup Finals.
“Everyone will be pumped the first day,” Welch said. “The Potomac Cup is the closest I will come to playing in the Ryder Cup. You always want to play your best and never let your team or state down. Then, fatigue, stamina, sleep, how much the guys hang out late at nite, all play a part in Saturday's play. Your hope you have a team of grinders because once you get to Sunday's singles matches -Winning is about who wants it more.”
Virginia Captain Steve Czaban thinks the front nine par-5’s will possibly hold the key to his pairings.
“On day one, I pretty much plan to camp out on #’s 5 and 8, and even 10,” he said. “Back in 2004, only a few of the strong players could reach them in two. Now, I think those par-5’s are potential eagle holes for at least half of our players.”
“If I have some guys who start eating those holes up, then that’s going to change my thinking on better ball pairings. You just can’t afford to two guys paired where neither one has a chance to go for it in two.”
Then, there’s the infamous 15th.
A massive wall of deep grass frames the right side up to 90 feet up the hillside to nearby I-70. Sure, you can find your ball in there – if you have an hour to kill, and several good search dogs.
A deep dry creek bed slashes in from the left side, pinching the fairway to a claustrophobic 18 yards starting around the 300 yard mark.
Virginia’s Frank Romano, also playing in a record 7th Cup Finals opposite Welch, probably won’t be ordering a framed painting of the hole for his office.
“It’s just intimidating, the gunch, that hazard on the left, the “devil's vulva,” or whatever captain Czaban calls it,” Romano said, his voice wandering off a bit. “ I remember during the last Cup we would just cruise along on the back nine and then make a left turn into ‘where do i wanna hit this?’"
"I really didn’t play that hole very well at all. A par 5 with a 20 yard wide fairway with waist high grass on both sides of the fairway?”
“Hell, I couldn't throw it and find the fairway.”
The Devil’s Vulva?
Yes, that’s what Czaban called it back in 2004 as he watched the hazard wreak havoc with matches. The term was a tip of the cap to an infamous bunker at Pine Valley. A bunker so small, it was named the “Devil’s A**hole” by members.
“I just thought the hazard on 15 needed a nickname,” Czaban said. “And as body parts go, it’s just deep, shaped like a big “V” and hairy and nasty. It seemed to fit. And the guys took to it. So it stuck.”
And when the two most accomplished players in Potomac Cup history show so much deference to mere par-5, you know the hole is going to have a big say in the outcome of the weekend.
“The most intimidaing hole by far is 15,” Welch conceded. “You can hit anything from Driver to 5 iron off the tee. I’ve actually hit both. I am sure bogey will win the hole a few times.”
The series score in this event is Virginia 5, Maryland 4. But since a narrow Virginia win back at Nemacolin in 2007, Maryland has stepped on the throttle and left the Commonwealth gasping to keep up. This year, Virginia is closer to their foes on paper, but smart money favors Maryland finally pulling even in the event’s 10th Anniversary year.
The only question, is whether fortune will favor the bold, or the sensible.