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2009: Singular Sensation

Solving Scotland for the first time, Team USA ran away with the 24th PGA Cup in 2009 with a record-setting performance in Sunday's single matches, taking 8 1/2 of 10 points from Team GB&I to retain the coveted Llandudno International Golf Trophy.

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A smiling Team USA Captain Brian Whitcomb (fourth from left) and his victorious PGA Cup team show off their prize, the Llandudno International Golf Trophy. (The PGA of America)

By Bob Denney, The PGA of America

LOCH LOMOND, Scotland -- For over a year, Brian Whitcomb had taken notes about how he would go about his duties as Captain of a PGA Cup Team. He would match 10 PGA club professionals who would be immersed in the cauldron of match-play competition and face the stomach-churning reality of playing for one's country.

Whitcomb, the PGA honorary president from Bend, Ore., completed his short course by seeking counsel from someone whom he watched make a success of such a role -- 2008 Ryder Cup Captain Paul Azinger.

Whitcomb met with Azinger, took more notes and then guided the United States against Great Britain & Ireland in the 24th PGA Cup over the past week in Scotland.

The Americans' resounding 17½ to 8½ victory over Great Britain & Ireland was as much a tribute to U.S. depth and talent as it was to Whitcomb's ability to bond and blend his players representing 10 separate PGA Sections.

"I told my players that if you let me take care of the pairings; let me take care of the worrying and the second-guessing, you only have one job and that's the professional you are playing against," said Whitcomb. "You go about your business, and that is what we did."

The United States found its stride in the Sunday singles, winning a record eight of 10 matches and halving another at The Carrick on Loch Lomond.
 
Sparked by Mark Sheftic of Ambler, Pa., who posted a 6 and 5 victory over reigning Glenmuir PGA Champion James Lee of South Wales for the decisive point, the U.S. went on to register the most points in singles in PGA Cup history and the second-most total points since the biennial showcase event for PGA Professionals began in 1973.

The U.S. returns home with the Llandudno International Golf Trophy, owning a 16-5-3 overall record and having won the PGA Cup for the first time on Scottish soil.
 
The U.S. opened the Sunday singles with a 9-7 advantage, after Great Britain & Ireland stormed back Saturday afternoon to trim the deficit.
 
"In the end we had 10 strong players, 10 deep," said Whitcomb. "I've been around this game since I was five or six years old and to watch club professionals perform at the level they did, it means the world to me."

"We did it for a great Captain," said Sheftic, the PGA assistant professional at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., and one of six U.S. players to make a PGA Cup debut. "He is one of the most positive persons I've ever met in my life. And, when you see how much he wants to win, you want to win it for him. He's got one of the biggest hearts going."

Sheftic's momentum of an eagle-birdie spurt at the par-5 fifth and par-3 sixth carried him on to the victory.
"It was all about the team, and not about me," said Sheftic. "I got it going early and the front-runners in the line-up and the guys in the middle then took over."

Great Britain & Ireland Captain Gary Alliss, who served for the second consecutive PGA Cup, said that the final-day singles performance by the Americans was not totally surprising.

"They performed as we had expected them to perform," said Alliss, the PGA Master Professional at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England. "They were 10 very strong players. I think personally that we didn't putt as well as the U.S. Team. History will show that we were annihilated, and it looks as if we were, even though the margin was tiny in so many of the individual matches. Enormous congratulations to Brian his team."

The United States opened with a 1-up victory by Sonny Skinner of Sylvester, Ga. over Barry Taylor of St. Helens, England. Skinner, who two-putted from 80 feet for a winning par on the 18th, was the first player off the tee each session for the U.S., and finished 4-0-0 in his debut in the event.

"I wanted to be first off, and I really was pretty relaxed after I got over the ball," said Skinner, who escaped serious injury in Friday's Morning Foursomes when he jumped from a golf car that was careening into a cavernous fairway bunker.

"I like my team and it's a team atmosphere most of us have never had since college," said Skinner, the PGA teaching professional at River Pointe Golf Club in Albany, Ga. "It really does something for you to play for a team and not for yourself."

Teammate Scott Hebert of Traverse City, Mich., the 2008 PGA Professional National Champion was the top performer on the team with a 5-0-0 record.

He parred the 18th hole for a 2-up victory over GB&I veteran Jon Bevan of Weymouth, England.

"I had a sloppy tee shots but was able to get the game back to square," said Hebert. "He [Bevan] is a great player was the guy I wanted to play. As the luck of the draw, I was able to face him.

The lone U.S. singles defeat was weathered by reigning PGA Professional National Champion Mike Small of Champaign, Ill., dropping a 2 and 1 decision to former Walker Cup player Jeremy Robinson of Evesham, England.
 
"It was always about the team here this week," said Small, the head coach at the University of Illinois. "I would rather be the one loser on a winning team than the one winner on a losing team. As Phil Weaver (Chairman of The Professional Golfers' Association of Great Britain & Ireland) said, 'There's no better honor for a sportsman than playing for your country.' "

Craig Thomas of White Plains, N.Y., the PGA head professional at Metropolis Country Club in White Plains, defeated six-time PGA Cup veteran Paul Wesselingh of Derby, England, 1-up.

He said that he would prefer not to talk about the PGA Cup when he gets home among his fellow professionals.

"I'm going to tell them it's not that all big of a deal because I don't want them to try so hard," said Thomas, with a big grin. "If they don't practice as much, hopefully I can sneak in under the radar. It was truly something special. The fact that we could come over to Scotland made it that much more special. It was an experience of a lifetime."

The remaining U.S. victors on Sunday included Ryan Benzel of Bothell, Wash., with a 2-up decision over Will Barnes of Lancashire, England; Lee Rinker of Jupiter, Fla., by 3 and 1 win over Craig Matheson of Falkirk, Scotland; 1995 PGA Professional National Champion Steve Schneiter of Sandy, Utah, with a 1-up win over Andrew Barnett of Denbighshire, Wales; and Eric Lippert of Marina, Calif., with a 2 and 1 decision over Jamie Harris of Kent, England.

Kyle Flinton of Edmond, Okla. halved with Paul Simpson of West Berkshire, England. Flinton missed a four-foot par putt to win the match and reached over and picked up Simpson's marker. The two players hugged and were soon joined by respective teammates.

"That is how I would have wanted this to end," said Whitcomb. "Golf is the winner today."

The PGA Cup originated in 1973 as an outgrowth of the PGA Professional National Championship. Structured after the Ryder Cup, the competition features team competition between the top PGA club professionals from both sides of the Atlantic.

Sunday's Singles Results

USA   17½, Great Britain & Ireland  8½
 
Sonny Skinner, Sylvester, Ga. def. Barry Taylor, St. Helens, England, 1-up

Scott Hebert, Traverse City, Mich. def. Jon Bevan, Weymouth, Dorset, England, 2-up

Jeremy Robinson, Evesham, England (GB&I) def. Mike Small, Champaign, Ill., 2 and 1

Lee Rinker, Jupiter, Fla. (USA)  def. Craig Matheson, Falkirk, Scotland, 3 and 1

Steve Schneiter, Sandy, Utah (USA) def. Andrew Barnett, Denbighshire, Wales, 1-up

Craig Thomas, White Plains, N.Y. (USA) def.  Paul Wesselingh, Derby, England, 1-up

Ryan Benzel, Bothell, Wash. (USA) def.  Will Barnes, Lancashire, England, 2-up

Eric Lippert, Marina, Calif. (USA) def. Jamie Harris, Kent, England, 2 and 1

Mark Sheftic, Ambler, Pa. (USA) def. James Lee, South Wales, 6 & 5

Kyle Flinton, Edmond, Okla. (USA) halved with Paul Simpson, West Berkshire, England