PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club

The Loop

Palmer Cup finding its way

__OWING MILLS, MD.—__I’ll be the first to admit it was overdue, but I finally got a chance to attend the Palmer Cup this past week at Caves Valley GC, outside Baltimore. What the 11th edition of the event lacked in drama—the U.S. claimed a lopsided 18-6 win over Europe—it made up for in impressive golf.

Of course, it helps when you’ve got five first-team All-Americans competing in the two-day annual event. Billy Horschel,Dustin Johnson,Chris Kirk and Jamie Lovemark played for the U.S. while Rhys Davies made his fourth straight appearance for the Euros.

Payback, I’m sure, had a little something to do with the red, white and blue trouncing; in 2006 the Europeans dominated play with a 19½-4½ beatdown at Prestwick GC.

“I wanted a little revenge after last year,” said Luke List, who along with__Brian Harman__ and Kirk were the lone holdovers from the 2006 U.S. team and who claimed the cup-clinching point Friday when he defeated Gordon Yates, 6 and 5, in afternoon singles. “It’s nice to get back and do it this year.”

When the U.S. lost three of the four morning fourball matches to start Day 1, it looked like any other “cup-style” competition. Most impressive was Gareth Shaw and Davies 9 and 7 dismantling of List and Lovemark; Shaw made birdies on nine of 11 holes alone.

But then came the turning point of the event: an unprecedented 8-0 sweep by the Americans in afternoon singles. Suddenly, the U.S. had a commanding 9-4 overall lead.

To its credit, Mike McGraw’s team kept their feet on the accelerator, taking three of four foursomes matched in the morning of Day 2, assuring at least a 12-12 tie overall even if the Americans failed to win one of eight afternoon singles matches. Instead, they won six, with Harman and Horschel posting perfect 4-0 records.

“It sucks to lose this thing,” Harman said. “Especially like we did last year. I’m not going to be part of that again. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure we win. If I’m playing hard, you all need to play hard.”

In attendance was U.S. Walker Cup captain Buddy Marucci, no surprise considering the Palmer Cup format is almost identical to the one they’ll play at Royal County Down next September.

The problem, however, was that Marucci was one of only a handful watching. Galleries were only in the couple dozen, a disappointment when you consider that Caves Valley hosted the NCAA Championship only two years ago. Fans should be familiar with most of the players. (No help that the LPGA was playing one of its majors roughly 30 miles away).

For the Golf Coaches’ Association of America’s flagship event to take off it will need a few things. First, college golf's best players have to participate. The good news is that seems to be happening. Top players are excited when they’re named to the team and are looking forward to competing, no small feat. Secondly, the event has to be played at top-quality courses. Again, this is being done.

Thirdly, the event has to get local support. The folks at Caves Valley did a great job by all accounts of making the players feel welcome and the course was its usual immaculate self. The problem is that there was practically no mention of the event in the local papers or any signage for the competition in the area. There has to be better promotion of the competition within the community or it merely flies under the radar.

I think most people associated with the Palmer Cup understand that it will never reach the prestige of the Walker Cup. It doesn't need to, however, to be successful. After watching all 16 players from both sides of the Atlantic enjoy themselves last week, I believe this event can be a true showcase for college golf. Now all it needs is some golf fans to come see it.