There was a gimmick in the old Skins Game that required a player to “validate” a skin he’d won by securing at least a tie on the following hole.
Validation is what Roger Everin and his CSGA amateurs will have in mind Thursday at New Haven Country Club in the annual Julius Boros Challenge Cup when they seek to win back-to-back for the first time in almost a decade (2010-2011) against a PGA side that has dominated the competition, 34-13.
The CSGA amateurs won resoundingly in 2018, for the first time in seven years, 36.5 to 26.5. But there’s a real question, says second-year captain Everin, whether they can repeat.
“It’s going to be challenging,” he said. “We’ve got only six returning from last year’s team of 14.” (The teams will have 16 players each this year). Everin points out that among the missing are some of team’s highest point-getters. Wampanoag’s Brian Ahern, the 2018 Palmer Cup champion, is out for back surgery, and Rob Neaton, a Connecticut Amateur semifinalist, is ill. What’s more, 2018 Player of the Year Ben Conroy, a star in last year’s Cup, and former 2017 Mid-Amateur Champion Mike Kennedy, both members of New Haven, have business conflicts and won’t make it.
“So it’s an uphill battle,” says Everin, “because these PGA guys can really play. They aren’t going to shoot in the 80s or high 70s. I tell my players, if you’re more than two or three over, you can’t expect to win.”
In Everin’s hand-wringing sounds a bit like Former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz sizing up a weekend opponent before throttling them, his losses are real. On the other hand, while he’s missing some 2018 youth, he has gained experience. Hall of Fame member Dave Szewczul, out last year for back surgery, and a veteran of 44 Challenge Cups, returns. So does another Hall of Famer, Bill Hermanson, who has played in 41. What’s more, fully 13 of 16 players on his team have Challenge Cup or Tri-State team experience, including long-hitting Dan Murphy and TOC champion Patrick Griffin. He also has Ben Day, the former Palmer Cup champion who was not able to participate last year. (Ben and brother Dan, along with Murphy and his brother, Chris, will play in the U.S. Four-Ball this month). Richard Dowling, 2017 Connecticut Amateur Champ, who with partner Nick Taylor just repeated as Two Man champions, is also back.
On the PGA side, captain Ralph Salito answers with a century of experience and a droll sense of humor. “My team has completely forgotten about last year and is totally focused on this year’s event,” he says, tongue-anchored-in-cheek. Salito relies on Fran Marrello, competing in his 42nd Cup, and newcomers Jan Wivestad, Rick Fleury and E.J. Altobello. He’s also got Mike Martin of Tashua Knolls, a consistently strong Section player, last year’s Player of the Year Chris Tallman, and, for home-team advantage, New Haven head professional Bill Wallis and former New Haven assistant Billy Street.
“Seriously, the team represents the best players in the Connecticut Section and among the best players in the PGA of America,” says Salito. “I consider it a privilege to have played on, been an Assistant Captain and now Captain for the Julius Boros Connecticut Section Challenge Cup Team. A professional at the Country Club of Waterbury, Salito was twice Walter Lowell Champion and twice Connecticut Senior PGA Champion.
Likewise Everin likens the Cup to an All-Star game. “It takes a lot to make the team. You really have to play well. And even that doesn’t guarantee a win. My wife asked me when I played in it, ‘What’s different from when you won and when you lost?’ It really isn’t different.”
The Challenge Cup is divided into team and individual competition, played simultaneously. Two-person teams play against one another while each member of the team plays a member of the other team. Both team and singles matches are worth 3 points: front nine, back nine, total, so that in one foursome nine points are at stake.
It was the team competition last year that proved critical, with the CSGA winning 13.5 points to the PGA’s 7.5, much of that margin coming in the final four matches, where the amateurs won all but 2.5 points of 12. Kyle Nolin of Tallwood Country Club and Ahern blanked their opponents. Nolin is back.
Last year’s Challenge Cup victory was the beginning of an unprecedented sweep in team competition for Connecticut amateurs. In August Connecticut junior team dominated the New England Junior Invitational Championship, and in October the CSGA team, by a single point, defeated the Massachusetts and Rhode Island teams in the Tri-States.
This is the 48th playing of the Challenge Cup and the 44th time that New Haven Country Club has hosted. Created in honor of Julius Boros, arguably Connecticut’s greatest golfer, who won the U.S. Open twice and the PGA Championship, the matches were first played at Tumble Brook in 1972, but have found a home at New Haven.
Founded in 1898, New Haven Country Club was first designed by Robert D. Pryde, with the present layout completed by Willie Park, Jr. in 1922. In addition to hosting the Challenge Cup, the club has a rich history of hosting the state’s top amateur and professional events. New Haven Country Club has hosted a total of sixteen Connecticut Amateur Championships, seven Connecticut Open Championships, including the 2018 Open, and one Connecticut PGA Championship. It will host U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifying this year. The course will be set up at approximately 6,560 yards for the Challenge Cup and will play to a par of 34-36—70.