SANTA ANA PUEBLO, N.M. -- Of all the matters decided at the PGA Professional National Championship yesterday -- who would hoist the Walter Hagen Cup and receive the $75,000 first place check (Mike Small, head golf coach at the University of Illinois), who would get to play in the year's last major, the PGA Championship at Hazeltine (the top 20-finishers, rounded out by defending champion Scott Hebert, Mike Miles, Kevin Roman, Chris Starkjohann and Mitch Lowe, all of whom survived the eight-for-five playoff at -2) -- also on the plate was the final roster for the PGA Cup. When the competitors are mostly busy giving lessons and running pro shops, it's useful to pack a lot of the important qualifying into one event.
The PGA Cup is essentially the Ryder Cup for club pros. Every two years, a points system determines a squad of ten American PGA Professionals that will battle ten PGA Professionals from Great Britain and Ireland in team fourball, foursomes and individual matchplay. The 24th PGA Cup will be held at the Carrick De Vere Deluxe Resort in Loch Lomond, Scotland, September 18-20th. In 2007 the Americans retained the cup 13.5-12.5 at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Georgia.
Ryan Benzel, a 30-year-old teaching professional at Battle Creek Golf Course outside Seattle, calls playing in the Cup the "highlight of his career" even though he made the cut at the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills. "Something about having a red, white and blue golf bag and knowing you're playing for your country just puts it above all else," says Benzel. Benzel locked up the opportunity to compete in his second PGA Cup after finishing T-4 in this year's PGA National Professional Championship in Santa Ana Pueblo, NM.
The U.S. Team will be captained by Brian Whitcomb, the Honorary President of The PGA of America. The ten player squad will consist of Mark Small, Ryan Benzel, Scott Hebert of Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Acme, Mich., Mark Sheftic of Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Penn., Sonny Skinner of River Pointe Golf Club in Albany, Ga., Kyle Flinton of Quail Creek Golf and Country Club in Oklahoma City, Steven Schneiter of Schneiter's Pebblebrook Links in Sandy, Utah, Eric Lippert of Del Monte Golf Course in Monterrey, Calif., Lee Rinker of Emerald Dunes Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Craig Thomas of Metropolis Country Club in White Plains, NY.
--* Max Adler*