Potomac Cup Rolls Toward Tenth Anniversary Better Than Ever

By: Jay Flemma

Shortly after the 29-7 final score was entered into the record book and the Maryland flag was unfurled from the balcony of Blue Ridge Shadows Golf Club in Front Royal, Va., in tribute to their record shattering victory, Jeff Lim-Sharpe and Lee Flemister eagerly took possession of the Potomac Cup for display at Blue Mash Golf Club. They promised teammates Bill Jenner, Pete DeTemple and the rest of the "Killer Bees" of Breton Bay Golf Club that it would be handed over to them for display at their home course in two months time.

Meanwhile, a beaming Mike Wah completed a remarkable redemption. After a mediocre performance in 2007's Cup and a year off in 2008, Wah was a great comeback story, winning the Sheriff's Award for the tournament's most outstanding player, narrowly edging Jenner and DeTemple for the honor. All three finished a sterling 5-0-0, cutting through opponents with the ruthless efficiency, unquenchable fire and single-minded vision that only player-captain Vance Welch could inspire.

There was Ron "I have the biggest head I know" Thomas, who also has the biggest heart I know - next to Steve Czaban of course - smiling proudly, ear-to-ear, and singing Grateful Dead songs as he loaded up the car. "…And the bees made honey in Virginia's hair," he ad-libbed, re-writing the lyrics to "Samson and Delilah" to fit the Potomac Cup result. He had the easiest captaincy ever: just wind up Vance Welch and let him go.

There were characters everywhere you looked. Is Jeff-Lim Sharpe "Captain Caveman," Johnny Damon, or Cousin Itt from the Addams Family with his long mane of hair? Either way, his golf game is sublime. He makes putts from three different area codes each round. Lee Flemister might as well be called "The Sandman" the way he rocks opponents to sleep. Greg Roberts has the "Cookie Monster" on his shoes, bag, belt buckle and golf towel.

There was Keegan Boone - Keegan the Kid - at 15 years old, the youngest competitor in the history of the Cup playing like he was 10 years older. Finally, there were the Killer Bees, swarming and stinging their way to rewriting the record book: most points scored (29), fewest points surrendered (seven), most points scored consecutively (nine unanswered to open the tournament), largest lead out of the gate (9-0), widest margin of victory (22), earliest Cup clinching (match 22), and the largest single session beat-down (6-0, Friday morning foursomes, which was also the first skunking in tournament history), to name a few.

Of course, when you have a cool name like Rusty Pies, you don't need a nickname. "Rusty Pies?" my girlfriend asked doubtfully, "that's the worst name you've made up since 'Stewart Cink.' "

Sorry, Britt, it's a real name, and along with Vance Welch, Ken Lampard, and Chad Rowse, this endless cast of characters on Team Red put on a virtuoso performance in dispatching outmanned, outgunned, outnumbered Virginia, rewriting nearly a decade's worth of tournament records in the process.

Virginia has characters on its team and has a lot of character too, if you understand the nuance. Steve "The Thing" Nolin and doubles partner Mark Waslo were savvy veterans, rousing Team Blue's spirits at every turn. Chris Robb and Tom Lantz carried themselves like all-stars and champions all weekend, even scoring some points. Lantz handed Welch his only loss of the tournament. Little pipe-cleaner sized Steve Ciliberti has enough fire for three guys triple his size, and Mark Vandegrift, playing in his first anchor match in singles - the place of honor - upset heavily favored Greg "Cookie Monster" Roberts. Everyone in the house thought Cookie the rookie would eat Vandy for lunch. Instead, Vandy crushed him 7&5. I guess that's the way the Cookie crumbles.

But now we must look forward to a bright future. The Potomac Cup matches were born in 2001. Each year, hundreds of hopeful D.C.-area amateur golfers play their way through two grueling qualifiers in the hopes of landing one of a dozen at-large spots on each of the twelve-man teams representing either Maryland or Virginia.

Entrants play as two man best-ball teams. Originally starting as a net event - so high handicappers could have a fair chance to compete for their state's team - the event moved to scratch format in 2007 and the caliber of entrants has soared to include future pros, college stars, and amateurs playing in USGA events as well as other amateur tournaments such as the Travis Invitational and the Anderson team event at Winged Foot. There are still a few handicap players that make these state all-star teams. Karl Keiffer played for Virginia this year, and he's a 7. His doubles teammate, Steve Ciliberti is a 1.4. But the trend has sharply turned to the experienced, career amateur circuit player, mid-ams, and young stars on their way to becoming pros.

The survivors head off to a first rate golf resort for a three day competition modeled closely after the Ryder Cup matches - two days of two-man team competition and a final day of singles play. Former PGA Tour venue Nemacolin Woodlands in western Pennsylvania hosted the event in 2006-07. For many years it was the home of the 84 Lumber Classic. They made every participant feel like they were in the Ryder Cup. Blue Ridge Shadows in Front Royal has held the last two events, and been ranked as high as No. 3 in the state by some golf publications.

As the years have progressed the tournament's renown has grown significantly, creating not only a genuine interstate buzz preceding the matches, but generating new, lucrative economic partnerships. Several traditions of the event add to its aura: the stirring national anthem and flag-raising ceremony on Friday morning; the formal team photos in uniform; the collegial dinners; Czaban's inimitable Saturday evening video montage of great sports highlights; and growing media coverage all make the tournament one of the competitive highlights of any amateur's career. With the Middle Atlantic PGA Section running the tournament in many ways, including sending rules officials to the qualifiers ad finals, and with founder Czaban's sterling record as a well-connected sports broadcaster, the Potomac Cup is already the gold standard by which team events are measured. With outstanding organization, fierce competition and an excellent reputation, it's the kind of tournament that makes the game look good as well.

As the tournament turns 10 years old next year, Czaban plans a celebration of special magnificence. Several of the finest country clubs in both states have expressed interest in staging the Potomac Cup, and all the pomp, circumstance and regalia will increase tenfold. The responsibilities of the players will intensify accordingly. They'll have to meet and greet members of the club and spend many hours as ambassadors of the Potomac Cup tournament itself. Those few players - not many, but a small handful - who would prefer to merely show up for golf, then avoid all the dinner, meetings and events would be better served sticking to the rubber-chicken, beer and cart events at their local member-guest.

While most participants gladly accept such responsibility - guys like Nolin and Lantz, Lim-Sharpe and Pies, Jenner and DeTemple, and countless others too numerous to list understand that when they are at the Potomac Cup they represent themselves, their team, their home club and their state, and participate with grace, class, and dignity.

Every few years, someone comes along who doesn't understand the central message: There is more to playing for a state-sanctioned, all-star state golf team than being a good golfer.

One Virginian found that out the hard way when he learned this year that being the No. 1 player for Team Blue doesn't mean that rules will be bent for you if you're late or miss scheduled events. So too did another Virginian who was being called out by officials for missing the national anthem, an unforgivable sin at this event. "I didn't know we were playing in the U.S. Open," was his pitiful excuse.

"Yes, you did," the official responded. "You've seen every other member of this team treat it with that reverence. We expect that from all of us."

Next year, when all eyes in the golf world will be on the tournament, we won't have to worry about such problems. With everyone's attention fixed firmly on each team member and how they conduct themselves, players should be on high alert all weekend to be the best teammates and ambassadors they can be. Media coverage should rise sharply as well. No one will want to be branded a rebel at an atmosphere such as the austere and venerable Potomac Cup held at a white-glove private club. They would find future invitations to top amateur events would evaporate.

Those two exceptions aside, every other player has had an all-hands-on-deck, all-for-one and one-for-all attitude for their team, Czaban and the tournament. "We love it," said affable Lim-Sharpe. "We've looked forward to it all year."

"We did to," said Maryland swashbuckler DeTemple, one of only three players to go undefeated and un-tied. "The players are great, the competition is top-notch, and the chance to play for the red and white of Maryland just makes you feel great. There's nothing else like it on golf I've seen except the Ryder and Walker Cups. To give ordinary guys like us a chance to feel that is just incredible. Thank you, Steve Czaban."

He's dead on: Thank you Steve Czaban. We can't wait to see what you've got in store for us next.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.