McGrath: Get ready for the best of the Porter Cup

Bill McGrath

Welcome to Porter Cup Week, or what would have been Porter Cup Week.

Today the Niagara Falls Country Club course would have been overflowing with tournament sponsors, club members and, of course, some of the best amateur players from around the world.

This would have been Ham-Am day, featuring the traditional best-ball competition that serves as the prelude to the main event, 72 holes of stroke play climaxed with the crowning of the champion in what would have been the 62nd Porter Cup.

No golf. No players' dinner. No barbecue. No Maid of the Mist boat ride. No awards ceremony on Saturday. 

It wasn't to be, but give the tournament directors and the Porter Cup Executive Committee credit for remaining hopeful as long as they did before making the difficult decision to call it off in late May, a casualty of COVID-19.

So let's have a virtual tournament, the best of the Porter Cup if you will, to fill out this week. Starting Wednesday there will be a four-part series, one for each of the four rounds, starting with the 1979 tournament that matched the three top-ranked collegians in the final round — John Cook, Bobby Clampett and Gary Hallberg. An incredible turn of events in the third round set the stage. The Porter Cup never before or since had such a pairing of collegiate All-Americans with a championship at stake in its 61-year history. 

In 1987, Jay Sigel won his third Porter Cup, a feat still unmatched, and it took him a couple of extra holes and some luck to do it. He rallied from four strokes down with eight holes to play in the last round and made a nail-biter of a putt at 18 setting up the playoff with Nacho Gervas of Georgia Tech.

And how about Brian Harman's amazing record 22-under-par 258 in 2007 against one of the strongest fields ever to play the course. That record might still be standing when the Porter Cup celebrates its 100th birthday.

Topping it off will be the 1983 tourney that brought out the largest gallery ever, 2,000-plus (and maybe more) as one tournament official estimated at the time, to see NFCC members Mike Slipko and Fred Silver match shots with Scott Verplank, an up-and-coming sophomore from Oklahoma State and a successful future pro.

Intriguing matchups, a couple of records and a once-in-a-lifetime championship bid by two NFCC favorites. Hard to beat that. All of the tournaments over the years generated their own memories with playoffs, surprise winners, rain delays and runaways, but these four stand out in my opinion. You may have others in mind that could have made the grade.

No, these stories will not replace a live Porter Cup, but one of the premier sporting events in Western New York deserves a nod during its usual spot on the calendar in this Twilight Zone of a year.

Bill McGrath is a former Niagara Gazette sports editor and author of the book, "Porter Cup Fifty Years." Contact him at scoreboard@gnnewspaper.com

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