AUSTIN, Texas (Sept. 27, 2019) — Rookie teammates Ben Cook of Caledonia, Michigan, and Ben Kern of Round Rock, Texas, rallied from a three-hole deficit to forge a memorable tie in afternoon foursomes Friday at sauna-like Fazio Foothills Course.
Kern, a PGA Head Professional at Georgetown (Texas) Country Club, capped a 36-hole day, making a two-foot birdie putt to steal a half-point. The duo, who followed a 1-up win in Morning Four-ball, inspired the United States to a 5-3 lead over Great Britain & Ireland in the opening day of the 29th PGA Cup.
The Americans, who are attempting to win back the Llandudno Trophy for the first time since 2013, got a pair of solid afternoon wins to build momentum in the premier international showcase for PGA Club Professionals.
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Ryan Vermeer of Omaha, Nebraska, and Bob Sowards of Dublin, Ohio, the respective reigning PGA Professional and Senior PGA Professional Players of the Year, downed England’s David Dixon and Jason Levermore, 3 and 2. About a half-hour later, Rich Berberian Jr. of Hooksett, New Hampshire and Sean McCarty of Solon, Iowa, held on for a 1-up triumph over Scotland’s Craig Lee and Paul O’Hara.
“The last hour of golf this afternoon was incredible,” said U.S. Captain Derek Sprague of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. “That half-point from ‘Team Ben’ was just like a full point for us. They grinded it out to the bitter end today and it shows on the scoreboard.
“That’s my Team Ben, and I count on those guys. I talked to them when they were three down and reminded them that this was an important match and they could bring it back. Big Ben Kern said, ‘No problem, we can get it done.’ And they did just that, which was great.”
Cook, an Assistant PGA Professional at Yankee Springs Golf Course in Wayland, Michigan, said that his partner’s easygoing manner helped calm him.
Then, the twosome faced a three-hole deficit. What was the thinking at that point?
“Just play hard. You never know,” said Cook. “Especially in alternate shot. One bad tee shot or errant shot, matches can flip.”
Kern said that he and Cook never looked back in their match. “We got up early (in the math) but we gave a few back. We still played solidly, made a few birdies. They were up on us, but we never gave up.”
What did the half-point feel like?
“It feels like three or four, to be honest,” said Kern.
Sowards and Vermeer, also the respective 2004 and 2018 PGA Professional Champions, were encouraged once the pairing was announced by Sprague.
“I sat with those guys at dinner last night and they told me, ‘Derek, this is a match made in heaven,” said Sprague. “They said they visualize each other’s shot. We tee off from the same side of the tee, we have the same ball flight. They’re comfortable and that is what we want.”
It is Sowards’ fourth PGA Cup appearance, and part of a long stay in Austin. Next week, he defends his title at Fazio Foothills Course in the Senior PGA Professional Championship.
“I hope that I have enough left by then,” said Sowards, the PGA Director of Instruction at Kinsale Golf & Fitness Club in Powell, Ohio. “But I know that if the Captain wants me to play twice tomorrow (Saturday), I’ll do my best.
“It was fantastic in alternate shot when you’re paired with players with the exact same (game). Ryan has such a good short game that it frees me up. I don’t even have to worry about hitting the green, because I know he’s going to chip it close. And, I think he feels the same about me. We’re a good pairing.”
Sprague said that resting players is one of a Captain’s toughest assignments.
“I am going to probably change things up in the morning,” said Sprague. “I have to figure out who will sit, which is always the toughest decision for a Captain. They all want to play, which is what I want. They are all competitors. But, they respect my decisions, which is great.”
As good as the U.S. was feeling by twilight, it has yet to stop England’s Matthew Cort. The 45-year-old PGA Teaching Professional at Beedles Lake in Leicestershire, rolled through two matches Friday with partners Jordan Godwin and Alex Wrigley, never having to play past the 15th hole.
Cort opened his day with a sizzling front-nine 30 to carry him and Godwin to a 5 and 4 rout of Danny Balin of Irvington, New York and Marty Jertson of Phoenix, Arizona. In afternoon foursomes, Cort and Wrigley caught fire by winning Holes 2 through 4 to build a 4-up advantage after the turn.
“It was a bit strange with a good win this morning,” said Cort. “You’ve got to re-think, have a quick bite to eat, then get out for the foursomes which is a totally different game, especially in the heat. You’ve got to take it easy. I think foursomes is a nice, chilled out match. Alex (Wrigley) and I seem to get on well and we’ve got a similar game. So, it really panned out well.”
The U.S. forged a one-point morning lead, 2½ to 1½, by closing well on the back nine. Kern capped things for his teammates watching from behind the green by nudging a 3-wood chip from the back fringe to within inches of the hole. That was good for a conceded birdie-4. It lifted him and Cook to a 1-up win over England’s Robert Coles and Scotland’s Craig Lee.
The 29th PGA Cup, which concludes Sunday at Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa, is the event’s debut in Texas. The Fazio Foothills Course is the centerpiece for the first international team match-play event to be conducted in Austin.
The United States and Great Britain & Ireland match respective 10-member teams in the “Ryder Cup for the PGA Club Professional.” The U.S. holds a 17-7-4 overall record, but GB&I won two straight Cups in 2015 and ’17.
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