'Making the team is No. 1 priority of every PGA member'September 13, 2017 Golf News
Great Britain and Ireland defend the PGA Cup this week. Mark Townsend spoke to skipper Albert MacKenzie ahead of the matches.
Great Britain and Ireland had never won the PGA Cup, golf’s biggest stage for club pros, on American soil. After going into the singles locked at eight points apiece it looked like that run would continue – the US led in five of the first six matches – but then things took a turn in the visitors’ direction in scorching temperatures at CordeValle.
Jason Levermore, who would remain unbeaten in five outings, was three down with eight to play but then posted two eagles, including a 140-yard hole out, and three birdies to win at the 18th.
Scotland’s Graham Fox recorded five straight birdies to turn his match around.
This was all taking place the same day as the Solheim Cup in Germany and Cordevalle had its own talking point when David Dixon, thinking he had been conceded a three-inch putt at the 11th but his opponent Stuart Deane claimed the hole to go back to two down.
It was a nonsense which is why the American skipper Allen Wronowski met the players at the 14th to tell them they wouldn’t be playing the hole as it had been conceded. Dixon closed out the match at the next.
And so it came to the 10th and final match and Ireland’s Niall Kearney against Alan Morin. Kearney, one up, conjured up a remarkable up and down from behind the 18th green, completed by a nervy seven-footer, and Jon Bevan’s side had made history, 13.5-12.5, by capturing the Llandudno International Trophy in America.
From Friday to Sunday Albert MacKenzie, part of Bevan’s backroom team and the head pro at Saunton, will lead the GB&I effort at Foxills in Surrey.
The stats may, as ever, slant the Americans’ way but you couldn’t meet a more determined skipper, the team is packed with talent – and a lot of European Tour experience – and we have home advantage.
NCG spoke to the Scottish captain after the team’s get-together in July…
How does the qualifying process for the PGA Cup work?
It used to be done over a two-year points basis and the year of the cup gave the players double points.
For the last three matches the first three players on the team qualified from end-of-season play-offs which involve 24 players in an elite field.
The next six come from a two-year process and then I have one captain’s pick.
The American team has a similar playing background to us. Their big name is Omar Uresti, who played on the PGA Tour and was unbeaten at CordeValle and Paul Claxton who was first player to win $1m in one season on the Web.Com Tour.
Obviously they have a bigger pool of players to pick from. In our PGA Championship we start with 460 players at regionals, they start off at 4,000.
Whose brains have you picked in terms of leadership?
I took some great inspiration and belief from being a vice-captain to Jon Bevan. CordeValle allowed me to see things in the right light, I am very aware that we have a team full of experience and that we need to concentrate on making it a tight unit.
I also met Thomas Bjorn and Jamie Spence earlier in the year and they gave us some very important things to focus on and I tried to integrate that into a presentation in our get-together.
It is important to look myself in the mirror and say that was my best shot. If I stay focused on that then I won’t be too unhappy reading the history books.
How will you go about pairing up players?
We gave the players a comprehensive questionnaire in June where they have given me their two preferred partners.
We then gave them a shorter one at the get-together and asked the same question.
We’ve watched them now on the course I’ll have a 15-minute chat on the Wednesday before the matchces and I will give them two or three names who they may partner and make sure they are happy with that.
You just missed out as a player, how tough was that?
I lost out narrowly at Carnoustie in 1990 and I have never experienced a disappointment like it walking off a course. I vowed to myself that I would stay competitive to make the team and I lost in a play-off to get in the team in 2005.
So I kept my word to myself. To tick the box of vice-captain and now captain obviously helps to get over those disappointments.
Did the David Dixon incident sour the 2015 matches?
The US captain Allen Wronowski made a very sporting decision, when they got to the 14th tee he shook the players’ hands and said the hole would be conceded.
That really helped to galvanise a very healthy bond between the two organisations. There was no niggle, everyone was very professional and he totally diffused the situation by giving us the hole.
What did you get right in 2015?
We were extremely good with our preparations, we knew we had 10 great players and that was the perfect cocktail for success.
As a vice-captain Jon called me exactly one year before the match to ask if I would be involved and we spoke probably 250 days of the next year so I was definitely involved! We spoke in depth for many days and will be lifelong friends as a result.
How big a deal is it to make the team?
The PGA Cup is the number one priority of every member of the PGA. To say you have played in a PGA Cup is an honour and a privilege that every member should be aspiring to achieve and the players who have done that say it is one of the most enjoyable weeks of their careers. It’s the biggest event that we will ever be part of.
We’re hoping, given the Foxhills location and a lot of golfers and chimney pots in that area of Surrey, that we will have some considerable numbers to watch the matches.
How many speeches have you written?
I’ve written six speeches; for the welcome dinner, opening ceremony, winning and losing for the closing ceremony and two for the closing dinner.
And if the PGA Cup ends in a tie?
I have not thought for one second about that outcome, I had better go and write a seventh speech.
The GB&I PGA Cup team
Phillip Archer (Birchwood)
Robert Coles (Maylands)
Matthew Cort (Beedles Lake)
Christopher Currie (Caldwell)
David Higgins (Waterville)
Garry Houston (Carden Park)
Greig Hutcheon (Paul Lawrie Golf Centre)
Christopher McDonnell (Goodwood)
Damien McGrane (Co Meath)
Andrew Raitt (St George’s Hill)