HEXHAM, England – Great Britain & Ireland threw a punch at a United States team of PGA club professionals Saturday afternoon, with a four-ball performance for the ages that could have turned the 26th PGA Cup upside down.
It amounted to a passing storm on the Hunting Course at Slaley Hall, and the Americans delivered their own counter punch. Boosted by a pair of late-afternoon match victories, the U.S. built a 10 1/2 to 5 1/2 lead prior to Sunday’s 10 singles matches. It needs 2 1/2 points to retain the Llandudno International Trophy.
It may sound academic, but five-time PGA Cup veteran Mike Small, who makes his living coaching men less than half his age, had a simple, solemn message for his teammates.
“We have to take care of business in our own particular match,” said Small, the 47-year-old men’s golf coach at the University of Illinois. “We saw what happened in the Ryder Cup (2012) and you can’t let down your guard down, relax, and think that someone else will pick you up.”
Great Britain & Ireland’s duo of Scott Henderson and Greig Hutcheon did all that it could to turn the momentum, winning its opening seven holes with birdies – many within tap-in range. They posted a 28 on the front nine and had an eight-hole cushion over the previously unbeaten duo of JC Anderson of O’Fallon, Mo. and Kelly Mitchum of Southern Pines, N.C.
“What an exhibition, huh?,” smiled Mitchum before he reached the 10th tee.
Mitchum, who last played team competition in the 1993 Walker Cup, then extended the match along with partner Anderson, winning a pair of holes before GB&I closed them out, 6 and 5. U.S. Captain Allen Wronowski said the final stretch of the match “showed me something.”
“It could have been easy for our guys to fold it up after nine holes and go down 9 and 8, but they didn’t let that happen. I think the rest of the team noticed,” said Wronowski, the PGA honorary president from Bel Air, Md. “We talked about never giving up, keep grinding until every last shot, and until every last putt is holed. To watch these guys turn it around this afternoon after GB&I made its charge, was tremendous.
“These are great players and they have so much heart and so much passion for what they are doing,” he added. “I knew that no matter where we got behind that these guys could fight it out and have a chance.”
The Americans got the added lift they needed with a pair of 3 and 2 victories by Chip Sullivan of Troutville, Va., and Mark Sheftic of Blue Bell, Pa.; and by Rod Perry of Port Orange, Fla., and Jeff Sorenson of Blaine, Minn.
Perry, the reigning PGA Professional National Champion, nearly holed a bunker shot for eagle at the par-5 13th before chipping in for birdie at 15. Meanwhile, Sorenson contributed seven birdies. It was the first four-ball match of the week for the twosome, having been benched by Wronowski Friday afternoon after they struggled in that day’s foursomes.
“We don’t play foursomes at home very much, and this is a very tough format,” said Perry, the PGA head professional at Crane Lakes Golf and Country Club. “Both Jeff and I are momentum players. When things go well, we play very well and on the other hand, when things are not going well we can get lulled to sleep. I had moments that I played well, and Jeff had a lot of intensity and played very solid.”
Having clawed to a halved match in the Saturday Foursomes against England’s Dan Greenwood and Benn Barham, Sorenson said that he and Perry “enjoyed free-swinging it in four-balls.”
“We halved the 12th hole and then we birdied the last four holes,” said Sorenson, a PGA teaching professional at Columbia Golf Club in Blaine, Minn. “It’s a nature of the format. In foursomes, you have to protect par. In four-balls, you are not going to win too many holes making par. Par in foursomes is your friend and in four-balls it is almost like your enemy.”
In the final match on the course, 2012 National Champion Matt Dobyns of Glen Head, N.Y., and Ryan Polzin of Houston, Texas, halved with Dan Greenwood of Lincolnshire, England and Benn Barham of Kent, England. The match featured a combined 10 birdies, and the only bogey was shared by each side on the 18th hole. Dobyns lamented missing a five-footer for par that would have won the match.
“I hate to miss it weak and low,” said Dobyns. “I just killed us with the putter. It should never have gotten this far, to be honest. That putt on 18 is not easy, but maybe you make it 50 percent of the time if there’s no pressure.
“We knew the rush was coming from GB&I. We thought that if we could get out of here without getting too beat up, we would be in good position. We knew they would not lie down.”
Sheftic, who is making his third Cup appearance, said that he was focused to close out a match despite what was taking place around the course.
“In these types of matches, it can fluctuate very fast,” said Sheftic. “I think that Chip and I did a very good job of letting those guys handle what they had to handle. We stuck to our own game plan and take care of business on our side. We were 2-up at the turn, and they got it back to level. Chip got us sparked with the birdie putt he made on 14.”
“That putt, about 30-footer, and had a lot of break to it,” said Sullivan, the 2007 National Champion. “I was pretty jacked when I made it. It was something we needed. Mark made my day easier, and it is great when you know your partner is playing so well.”
GB&I Captain Russell Weir of Dunoon, Scotland, was not on the course to see his team’s afternoon four-ball performances. Weir, 62, is diabetic and was taken to Hexham Hospital as a precautionary measure, according to Professional Golfers’ Association Chief Executive Sandy Jones. Team duties were turned over to Vice Captain Jon Bevan.
Weir was released from Hexham Hospital late Saturday evening, but his status for the final day’s competition is uncertain.
“I think the doctors might have strapped him to the bed to stop him coming back. Hopefully he will be back tomorrow,” said Bevan before Weir’s release was announced. “I didn’t need to say a lot to them in the team meeting, they don’t like being put upon or bullied in a golfing sense. The Americans have been strong for two days, we have been strong in patches but and tomorrow we need four hours from them where each of them show us how good they are.
“I used Medinah as an incentive for them. They don’t need motivating, the longer this week has gone on the more they have understood, as rookies, what the PGA Cup means.”
Neither team performed to expectations in the Morning Foursomes. Dobyns and Polzin, watching a four-hole lead dwindle away. Dobyns missed a four-foot par putt on the ninth hole and began a slide that allowed GB&I’s Henderson and Hutcheon to scratch back to a one-hole deficit.
They drew even with the Americans on the 17th hole with a birdie, and won the match at 18 when Polzin hit a tree guarding the right side of the fairway and the ball dropping down, leaving Dobyns with a difficult uphill shot that he hit under the tree to 40 feet below the hole. Henderson hit his approach on the green 30 feet away and lagged his birdie putt to within tap-in distance to close out the match.
Sunday Singles pairings (local time):
9:30 a.m.: Mike Small, USA, vs. Benn Barham, GB&I
9:40 a.m.: Bob Sowards, USA, vs. Richard Wallis, GB&I
9:50 a.m.: Kelly Mitchum, USA, vs. Greig Hutcheon, GB&I
10:00 a.m.: JC Anderson, USA, vs. Scott Henderson, GB&I
10:10 a.m.: Jeff Sorenson, USA, vs. Gareth Wright, GB&I
10:20 a.m.: Rod Perry, USA, vs. Graham Fox, GB&I
10:30 a.m.: Matt Dobyns, USA, vs. Dan Greenwood, GB&I
10:40 a.m.: Ryan Polzin, USA, vs. David Callaway, GB&I
10:50 a.m.: Chip Sullivan, USA, vs. Nick Brennan, GB&I
11:00 a.m.: Mark Sheftic, USA, vs. Jon Barnes, GB&I
Saturday Morning Foursomes results:
Greig Hutcheon/Scott Henderson, GB&I, def. Matt Dobyns/Ryan Polzin, USA, 1-up
Rod Perry/Jeff Sorenson, USA, vs. Dan Greenwood/Benn Barham, GB&I, halved
JC Anderson/Kelly Mitchum, USA, def. Graham Fox/Jonathan Barnes, GB&I, 5&4
Bob Sowards/Mike Small, USA, vs. Richard Wallis/Gareth Wright, GB&I, halved
USA 2, GB&I 2
Saturday Afternoon Four-Balls results:
Scott Henderson/Greig Hutcheon, GB&I, def. JC Anderson/Kelly Mitchum, USA, 6&5
Matt Dobyns/Ryan Polzin, USA, vs. Dan Greenwood/Benn Barham, GB&I, halved
Chip Sullivan/Mark Sheftic, USA, def. Graham Fox/David Callaway, GB&I, 3&2
Rod Perry/Jeff Sorenson, USA, def. Nick Brennan/Gareth Wright, 3&2
USA 2 1/2, GB&I 1 1/2
SATURDAY TOTAL: USA 4 1/2, GB&I 3 1/2
TWO-DAY TOTAL: USA 10 1/2, GB&I 5 1/2