Niagara Gazette

August 4, 2013

Ruggiero: Some words of praise, post-Porter Cup

By KEN RUGGIERO
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Let’s begin our time together today by offering a “tip of the cap” to Steve Denn, who served as Tournament Director of a most successful 55th Annual Porter Cup. No one can know the tireless effort that it takes to construct this event over a six-month period prior to the actual first ball hit in the first round.

When we spoke, Steve was quick to point out the many volunteers who deserve a heartfelt “thank you” for the tournament’s success. He acknowledged firstly the members of the club for “graciously sacrificing a week of mid-season golf in the spirit of maintaining the wonderful tradition of Porter Cup.” 

He went on to thank everyone on staff, including General Chairman Jamie Mandell, Head Pro John Boss, and Grounds Superintendent Khlar Holthouse. I had the pleasure of covering my first Porter Cup in 1979 and I can tell you that none were carried out with more precision than this year’s competition.

This was a special, and difficult, time for Steve, as he lost his father and mentor Tom Denn earlier in the year. Steve tells me that this year’s Cup “had a distinct air of Dad” to it. He told me that it “was a special event, given it was the first Cup since Dad’s passing.

I asked Steve, “So what now?” He tells me that he will seek to decompress from all the hubbub for a few months and then begin the process of preparing for next year’s event, currently on the calendar for July 22-26.

Take a break Steve. You deserve it. And, from golf fans all throughout the Niagara Frontier and Southern Ontario, may I say, “Thanks for the show. It was marvelous.”

• • • •

I have a new fascination with professional golfer Phil Mickelson. It seems that he has elevated his game to a new level in 2013 and it couldn’t happen to a nicer fellow. I even got to speak to his younger brother Tim, who played in this year’s event, before Friday’s third round and found him to be a very accommodating person.

Casting a similar smile to that of older brother Phil, our conversation was both comfortable and informative. Tim currently serves as the Head Golf Coach at Arizona State. 

At seven years Phil’s junior, Tim often did things for big brother that others would not. As an example, when a young Phil had seemingly perfected his famous “flop shot”, it was Tim who stood only a few feet in front of Phil to help demonstrate the shot.

On Phil’s first attempt, Tim was slammed squarely in the back by the ball. Undaunted, Tim got up and took his place once again. The second time, Phil was successful and Tim was equally pleased with Phil’s success.

Interestingly, Phil is right-handed but plays golf left-handed, while Tim is left-handed but plays golf right-handed. Phil might have the edge in talent, but Tim is his equal when it comes to being a nice guy.

• • • •

Niagara Falls Country Club’s super-talented amateur Fred Silver will compete this upcoming week in the Seniors Open Amateur being held at Royal Aberdeen in Scotland. The Royal & Ancient website refers to Royal Aberdeen as “a true test of links golf in the north-east of Scotland.” Tom Watson won the Senior Open Championship at this links layout in 2005, and more recently, the 2011 Walker Cup was contested there. This classic course, combined with the ever-changing weather conditions, will make for an interesting few days for Silver.

The events format calls for 144 competitors to play 36 holes on Wednesday and Thursday, after which the leading 60 players and ties play a further 18 holes on Friday. The top twenty players receive automatic invites to next year's event.

Silver has qualified for the celebrated senior international event eight times. His best tourney was a 30th place finish at Saunton Golf Club in North Devon. To qualify as an American, a player must compete in the U.S. Amateur and earn a spot in the final 64 match play portion of the event. Silver qualifies as a member of the R&A handicap system, which requires a handicap index of 1.7 or less.

Silver’s strategy is simple and correct. He tells me that, “I’ve got to practice keeping the ball low and running it along the ground. I’ll also have to work on playing low pitch-and-run shots around the greens.”

Silver is already a champion around these parts. We’ll all be rooting for him to make his mark once again across the pond.

• • • •

During this years Cup, Steve Denn introduced me to his friend Jason Brydges, who himself has a long Porter Cup history. His family has housed many Cuppers over the past few decades, including Phil Mickelson twice, Howard Twitty, Willie Wood and Corey Pavin. 

Jason tells me that he was at an advantage in those days because his mom served as the housing chairwoman of the event for many years and she often picked the top-rated players to lodge at the Brydges’ home. Mickelson stayed with the family in 1989 (Phil finished second) and 1990, the year Phil won the Porter Cup. He turned pro that fall and the rest is history.

According to Jason, Phil was always very competitive and the two young men played pool most nights after dinner. He said that Phil was usually quiet and stayed to himself but that, on the course, he was all business. 

Their paths still cross from time to time. 

In 1995, Jason was caddying for Larry Barber on the Nike tour and the two men found themselves in Arizona, where Mickelson also happened to be staying. Phil had recently earned his pilot license, and he, Jason, Barber, and friend Jim Strickland decided to take a one-hour flight over to Nevada one afternoon for a little fun and gambling.

Mickelson rented a four-seat Cessna and the foursome had a great time. On the way home that evening, Barber noticed that Phil seemed uncomfortable and uneasy. That was odd since he was normally always very sure of himself. Finally, Phil told the group that, “I think we might be out of gas.” Larry jumped up and sure enough, the gas gauge read empty.

Panic set into the cockpit. Phil insisted that he remembered filling the tank. Strickland quieted the men enough to allow Phil to do some thinking, as he was trained to do during such a circumstance. Phil chose to fly off course, knowing that he could emergency land the plane aerodynamically on Route 10 if it became necessary. 

Four seat planes are very loud. Passengers wear headphones with built-in microphones in order to communicate effortlessly with one another.

Suddenly, the men on board realized that they were yelling to each other. The headphones were down and so was the airplane’s electrical system. The good news? There was plenty of fuel.

Soon, Mickelson rerouted back on course and eventually landed the aircraft safely. Jason remembers thinking that, had the plane gone down, his demise would be a footnote to the tragic loss of a great golfer. Thankfully, that never happened.

Ironically, a few weeks later, Sports Illustrated writer Rick Reilly wrote in the magazine a story about Phil and “three friends” having plane troubles over Arizona. 

Until next week, keep it in the fairway.

Ken Ruggiero is a local golf instructor and has been writing this column for the past 28 years. He can be reached at radiomaniac1949@yahoo.com.