OTTERSHAW, Surrey, England – For those American players present two years ago, watching their Great Britain & Ireland counterparts taking turns leaping into a pond by the 18th green at CordeValle in San Martin, California, was unsettling.
The first U.S. loss on home soil in PGA Cup history stung, and now sets up a compelling weekend nearly 27 miles southwest of London. The 28th PGA Cup, the premier international event for PGA Club Professionals, opens Friday at Foxhills Club & Resort’s Longcross Course.
The U.S. owns a 17-6-4 series lead since the event began in 1973, and is 6-5-1 on the road in the chase for the Llandudno International Trophy.
To set the stage for Friday morning’s four-balls, the Americans got a heavy dose of encouragement following Thursday’s opening ceremony. They viewed a video in the Team Room featuring Jack Nicklaus, Paul Azinger, Dave Stockton, Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Maj. Dan Rooney, Golf Channel announcer/North Florida PGA Member Charlie Rymer and reigning PGA Champion Justin Thomas.
If that wasn’t enough, U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Jim Furyk dialed in from Florida, asking the team to “set the winning plate for us as we come over next year.” Furyk closed by saying, “Play your own game. I promise you it’s good enough.”
PGA of America President and U.S. Captain Paul Levy of Indian Wells, California, said he likes what’s he’s seen in his team during practice.
“We have five veterans that have played in these matches before and five who haven’t. But there are also a lot of mature guys,” said Levy. “It’s not like we have a team of 25-year-olds. We have got a lot of experienced players – even those who haven’t played in the match before – who have been top-notch club professionals, tour experienced-type players. So we are excited. We think we’ve got a great team.”
Among the veterans is a twosome who competed at CordeValle in 2015: reigning PGA Professional Champion Omar Uresti, a PGA Life Member from Austin, Texas; and Jamie Broce of Indianapolis, the new head men’s and women’s golf coach at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).
“I feel like I take a lot of responsibility for my singles match in 2015,” said Broce. “I played great, and the guy I played made two eagles and three birdies in the last eight holes on me. He won the match and he really played well. I think their whole team played well and they earned it. We didn’t give them anything. For us to come over here to reclaim the Cup, we’re going to have to earn it. We’re not going to be able to back into anything.”
This marks Uresti’s third international team event, having competed in the Japan Friendship Matches as a junior at the University of Texas. “We definitely want to win the Cup back. To be on the first team that lost the Cup on U.S. soil was disappointing,” he said. “They have good players on their team and we have good ones on ours. We’ll be playing a course that is narrower than the old U.S. Open courses we’ve played.”
The 6,751-yard, par-72 Longcross is deceptively inviting in length, but has been honed to the specifications of Great Britain & Ireland Captain Albert MacKenzie. The fairways, according to Foxhills Director of Golf Chris Fitt, “have been pinched to provide bottlenecks” as a defense to the longest hitters.
There are no par-4s over 400 yards on the back nine, which leads to a shotmaker’s course and ideal for match play.
Great Britain & Ireland’s original plan was to utilize the longer Bernard Hunt Course. Both courses are well known to PGA Members here, as they host the annual Senior PGA Professional Championship.
“We just felt the Longcross Course was a little bit more British in its nature, where precision may be par around that course,” said MacKenzie, who was vice captain to winning 2015 Captain Jon Bevan. “Aesthetically, it’s easier on the eye and would provide a great theater for match play and the opportunity for more birdies on the back nine.
“Having been here the last four years for the British Seniors Championship, and finishing runner-up here in 2014, I am very fond of Foxhills. It is a wonderful resort, and offers virtually anything you want.”
MacKenzie doesn’t hide the fact that planning two years ago was paramount to bringing momentum to Great Britain & Ireland. “That was a great week,” said MacKenzie, “Jon (Bevan) was an inspirational Captain. We prepared very thoroughly. I would say the year before the PGA Cup, Jon and I had spoken 250 of the 365 days. It was a fantastic journey. We put a lot of effort into it. We had a template that we studied very closely for what happened in CordeValle and I pretty much used my personal twists.”
For Levy and his team, the task was aligning compatible partners who could mount a challenge. He also will call upon veterans in two-time PGA Professional Champion Matt Dobyns of Glen Head, New York; Mark Brown of Oyster Bay, New York; and 2013 PGA Professional Champion Rod Perry of Port Orange, Florida.
“It’s really exciting to represent your country. It’s a great honor, It’s something that most people don’t get to do very often,” said Dobyns, a PGA Head Professional at Fresh Meadow Country Club in Lake Success, New York. “It’s also to be on a team, which in golf we don’t get to do very often. It brings back a lot of good memories from college. Being in England, adds another dimension to it, taking a special trip and kind of living the life of a tour player is really exciting and something we all cherish.”
Perry arrived Wednesday morning, having secured his family and home following the passing of Hurricane Irma. He was one of the fortunate to get early clearance for a flight from the nearby Orlando International Airport. The PGA Head Professional at Crane Lakes Golf & Country Club in Port Orange, who missed two days of practice here, was not using any excuses.
“I was ready to play and really enjoyed my time around the course. Playing with Jamie (Broce) was a lot of fun,” said Perry, who competed in 2013 at Slaley Hall in Northeast England, when the U.S. forged a tie to keep the Cup for two more years. “We know we are in for a tough match.”
Brown, a 51-year-old PGA Head Professional at Tam O’Shanter Club in Glen Head, New York, last competed in the PGA Cup in 2000. He’s a three-time runner-up in the PGA Professional Championship.
“When we get on the course, we’re pulling for each other,” said Brown. “When you see that flag on the back of your shirt, it is really a special honor. Hopefully, we’ll take care of business.”
Levy said that he is pleased with the pairings that have come together through the practice rounds.
“The most important things about putting people together are all about relationships. After three days, we have a good idea and two players and want to win a match,” said Levy. “The golf course is very narrow and some areas the rough is tough. When it’s all said and done it’s about getting the ball in the hole faster than the other.”
The U.S. PGA Cup “rookies” include 2016 PGA Professional Champion Rich Berberian Jr. of Hooksett, New Hampshire; Paul Claxton of Claxton, Georgia; Dave McNabb of Newark, Delaware; Adam Rainaud of Chester, Connecticut; and Josh Speight of Locust Hill, Virginia.
“When my brother and I found out that I had made the team, it was the most pumped up that I have been,” said Rainaud, a PGA Assistant Professional at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York. “We get the camaraderie of the team and are friends forever.”
It’s been a season of major highs for McNabb, who competed in the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, was runner-up to Uresti in the PGA Professional Championship; and added appearances in the U.S. Senior Open and the PGA Championship.
“I think this would be one of the highlights of my career, to be one of the top 10 PGA Professionals in the country and to represent my country,” said McNabb, the PGA Head Professional at Applebrook Golf Club in Malvern, Pennsylvania. “I think we have to play good solid team golf and bond together as a unit to get the job done.”
28th PGA Cup
Captain: Paul Levy, Indian Wells, Calif.
Rich Berberian Jr., Hooksett, N.H.
Jamie Broce, Indianapolis, Ind.
Mark Brown, Oyster Bay, N.Y.
Paul Claxton, Claxton, Ga.
Matt Dobyns, Glen Head, N.Y.
Dave McNabb, Newark, Del.
Rod Perry, Port Orange, Fla.
Adam Rainaud, Chester, Conn.
Josh Speight, Locust Hill, Va.
Omar Uresti, Austin, Texas
Great Britain & Ireland
Captain: Albert MacKenzie, Devon, England
Phillip Archer, Warrington, Cheshire, England
Robert Coles, Romford, Essex, England
Matthew Cort, Leicester, England
Christopher Currie, Clydebank, Dunbartonshire, Scotland
David Higgins, Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland
Gary Houston, Wrexham, Clwyd, Wales
Greig Hutcheon, Banchory, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Chris McDonnell, Chichester, West Sussex, England
Damien McGrane, Kells, County Meath, Ireland
Andrew Raitt, London, England
Friday Morning Four-Ball Pairings
7:30 a.m. (2:30 a.m. EDT): Rod Perry, Port Orange, Fla. & Jamie Broce, Indianapolis, Ind. (USA) vs. Greig Hutcheon, Banchory, Aberdeenshire, Scotland & Damien McGrane, County Meath, Ireland (GB&I)
7:45 a.m. (2:45 a.m. EDT): Rich Berberian Jr., Hooksett, N.H. & Adam Rainaud, Chester, Conn. (USA) vs. Robert Coles, Romford, Essex, England & Chris McDonnell, Chichester, England (GB&I)
8:00 a.m. (3:00 a.m. EDT): Matt Dobyns, Glen Head, N.Y. & Mark Brown, Oyster Bay, N.Y. (USA) vs. Phillip Archer, Warrington, England & Andrew Raitt, London, England (GB&I)
8:15 a.m. (3:15 a.m. EDT): Omar Uresti, Austin, Texas & Paul Claxton, Claxton, Ga. (USA) vs. Chris Currie, Clydebank, Dunbartonshire, Scotland & David Higgins, Killarney, Count Kerry, Ireland (GB&I)