Team WPGA ties Tri-State Section in Palmer Cup Matches
By Mike Dudurich • September 17, 2021
Mike is a freelance writer and host of The Golf Show on 93.7 The Fan Saturday mornings from 7-8 AM. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeDudurich.
It was, by all accounts, a typical Palmer Cup day at Latrobe Country Club.
Skies were bright blue, teams from the West Penn Golf Association and the Tri-State PGA were dressed in their team gear, setting the stage for yet another memorable event that honors the man whose name the event proudly carries.
Just over a week from what would have been his 93rd birthday and just over a week from his passing on September 26, 2016, the presence of the King was definitely a part of this annual event.
“I would definitely say it was a reflective sort of day,” said Sean Knapp, a veteran participant and leader of team WPGA. “It started for me a few weeks ago at the U.S. Senior Amateur, which was held at the Country Club of Detroit.”
That was the site of Palmer’s U.S. Amateur championship in 1954, the title he long referred to as the turning point in his career.
“It was reflective out there in Detroit and it certainly was reflective today,” Knapp said. “On a number of levels, it was reflective. This was a celebration of Arnold Palmer and that made it very special. Was just a great day, very emotional.”
When those at LCC weren’t thinking about what makes the Palmer Cup so special, they got to witness some special golf as the teams battled through four ball competition in the morning and singles matches in the afternoon.
And in what seemed to be a very appropriate result, the teams finished in an 8 ½-8 ½ tie.
“No, no, that’s not appropriate at all,” Nathan Smith laughed. “We want to win every year. It’s a great competition and we had a lot of fun out there. And yes, there were some places where I got a little misty-eyed when I thought about things and times I spent with Mr. Palmer.”
As happens almost every year, both teams were without really good players. The Tri-State was without Oakmont professional Devin Gee and Allegheny pro John Aber. The West Penn team was without most of its outstanding crop of college players, led by Palmer Jackson and Mark Goetz.
But the competition was good throughout with both sides picking critical points that led to the tie.
For the pros, it started early when Brett Carman and Ari Papadopoulos picked up a big fourball win over a strong WPGA team of Rick Stimmel and Brett Young, 3&2, in the opening match of the day. Kevin Shields and Adam Corson opened some eyes when they took down the WPGA duo of Sean Knapp and Nathan Smith, 4&3.
The pros won the four-ball competition, 4-3, to set up the afternoon singles. Dan Rodgers of the Tri-State knocked the WPGA’s hottest player, Kevin Fajt, 2&1; Gene Walter survived a battle with David Brown, 1-up; Kevin Shields posted a similar score in a win over Smith; Adam Scuilli picked up a big point for WPGA when he beat Michal Gervais and Knapp ground out a tough 2&1 win over another Tri-State veteran, Gordie Vietmeier.
There were battles going on all across LCC, making for a competition that wasn’t decided until the final match.
Also continuing a tradition was a spectator who has been on hand for most, if not of all of the Palmer Cups.
Doc Giffin was Palmer’s righthand man, guiding the young star through all that needed to be navigated to becoming golf’s great American hero. And, along with his private chauffeur (me), the 92-year-old Giffin made his way around the course, watching the action.
More important than that was the expressions of respect and friendship exchanged between Giffin and the players on each hole. The meetings were all the same: We’d pull up to a tee or green and regardless of where the players were in their process, they dropped their clubs and walked to the cart.
Hats were taken off, handshakes and kind words were exchanged. It was obvious those meetings were very meaningful to Giffin as well as the players. Emotions were very evident as thank yous were exchanged and players expressed their gratitude to Giffin and his late boss and friend.
Giffin didn’t stay for the evening’s dinner, but word is that Bob Ford, the former Oakmont CC and Seminole GC professional, addressed the players. His words were laced with emotion, getting the best of him a couple times.
That’s the impact the King has had, and continues to have on the game of golf.
No doubt, it’s a special day on the calendar each year. And believe it or not, that impact seems to be felt more and more the further we get away from his passing on Sept. 26, 2016.
About the WPGA
Founded in 1899, the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association is the steward of amateur golf in the region. Started by five Member Clubs, the association now has nearly 200 Member Clubs and 33,000 members. The WPGA conducts 14 individual competitions and 10 team events, and administers the WPGA Scholarship Fund.