By KEN RUGGIERO
Niagara Gazette — Ever heard of Tiger Woods? Phil Michelson? Of course you have, or you wouldn’t be reading this golf commentary. They are currently the #1 and #2 ranked players in the universe. And, both of them have played in our Porter Cup.
Actually, there has been a multitude of the world’s premier players who have made their way through the amateur ranks on the road to the prestigious PGA Tour by way of the Niagara Falls Country Club. Deane Beman won the Porter Cup in 1964 and later became the Commissioner of the PGA Tour, serving a rapidly-rising organization from 1974 to 1994.
Ben Crenshaw played here and was crowned our 1972 Porter Cup champion. “Gentle Ben” went on to win 29 PGA events over his career, including two Masters titles. Scott Simpson won The Porter Cup in 1976 and went on to win the 1987 U.S. Open, defeating the iconic Tom Watson by a single stroke.
The oft-misunderstood David Duval won the Porter Cup in 1992 and went on to achieve the worlds’ #1 player ranking twice, dethroning Tiger Woods each time. Phil Michelson tied for second here in 1989, then won the Cup in 1990, besting Duval by a single stroke.
In 1994, Tiger Woods made his one and only appearance at NFCC. Controversy seems to follow this game great and the ’94 Porter Cup was no exception. After three rounds, Tiger found himself within striking distance, only three shots off the lead held by Allen Doyle, a 46-year-old amateur.
Then, the rains came.
All through the downpours and after a great deal of debate, the Porter Cup Committee determined that the event would have to be cut to 54 holes. Doyle was crowned champion.
It is my understanding from inside sources that Tigers’ father Earl Woods was furious. He felt that the event should be completed on Sunday. He said that a Sunday alternative was in the player contract. However, many of the participants that year had other commitments early the following week and playing Sunday would have disrupted player travel plans.
We may never know the full story, but Tiger never returned.
The list of former Porter Cup contestants reads like a “who’s-who” of golf over the past five decades. Game stalwarts such as Lanny Wadkins, Andy North, Gil Morgan, Bruce Litzke, Craig Stadler, Andy Bean, Geoff Ogilvy, Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar have walked the links of Lewiston Heights.
Who among this year’s Porter Cup elites might ultimately rise to the heights of golfing greatness? One can only guesstimate. Golf can be a fickle friend.
The good news is that all of us locally have the opportunity to follow the games future stars around a celebrated layout, and it’s free! If you love the game and you don’t make your way to today’s final round of the Porter Cup, the double-bogie is on you. If you do go, then I’ll see you out there.
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Given the success of many of the past participants of the Porter Cup, I thought it might be interesting to ask some of these young up-and-comers what they saw themselves doing professionally in 5 to 10 years. Here are some of their responses.
Nick Torrance, a 20-year-old junior at Jacksonville University, plans to work his way up the golf ladder through the Web.com tour. Sean Dale, a college graduate from Jacksonville, Florida, expects to play on tour soon. He is currently ranked 8th among college players by Golf Week and appears to be on the fast track to success.
Julian Suri, a good-looking graduate of Duke University, has a more amusing approach to his future in the game. His career goal? “Not to have to carry my bag anymore. Actually, I want to see what my limit is, how far I can go.”
Andrew Yun, a Stanford University grad, is ranked 19th among scratch players in the nation. He hopes to be on the PGA tour soon and compete in the majors. His caddie for the week, young James Spanbauer of Niagara Falls, stated to me that “Andrew is a great guy, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.”
Kramer Hickok, a junior at the Univ. of Texas, was an especially pleasant young man. He is currently ranked by Golf Week as a ‘Top Fifty’ college player. Hickok tells me that, “I have drawn my inspiration from my college roommate, Jordan Spieth, who left school after only three semesters, to play professionally.” Spieth has already won on the PGA tour, claiming victory recently at the John Deere Classic.
Hickok believes that having competed with Spieth while at Texas, he understands that level of ability and work ethic necessary to reach his goal of playing on tour.
Not every amateur at the Porter Cup wants to play professionally. Mike Carrig, a Buffalo native and graduate of Canisius College, is playing in his 2nd Porter Cup. He holds a degree in Accounting and, for now, his career plans are in flux. A fine player hovering around even-par this week, he seems realistic as to how good you must be to earn a living on tour.
Then there’s Scott Harvey, a 35-year-old real estate property manager from Greensboro, North Carolina. He is clear to tell me that he is committed to a lifetime of amateur golf, where he “gets the chance to meet a lot of great people and compete on some great golf courses.”
He reminds me a lot of a young Jay Sigel, a top amateur and three-time Porter Cup champion in the 1970’s and 80’s. Harvey has a realistic shot at finding a place on this year’s Walker Cup team. He tells me that would be his “ultimate dream.”
And that’s what the Porter Cup is all about. Talent. Participation. Competition. Respect. And seeking one’s dreams. It doesn’t get any better than that.Ken Ruggiero is a local golf instructor and contributing writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.