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WILSON CUP NOTEBOOK: To match play or not to match play?

Wilson Cup participants mull possible changes to 2-day format

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A vote today would likely produce a 2-1 outcome in favor of continuing the restructured 2019 format for the annual Wilson Cup interclub golf competition.

Champion Wilson Country Club and runner-up Wedgewood Public Golf Course would issue affirmative responses, while Willow Springs Country Club would cast a negative ballot.

But actually, such a vote would probably not cast a true reflection. Players from all three clubs have dropped subtle hints that more tweaking would not be a bad idea -— and is needed.

“I have mixed feelings,” expressed Mark Whitley, who has represented Wedgewood in seven Wilson Cups. “Some things I liked about it and one thing I really liked about it, a lot of people didn’t like. And some things I didn’t like.”

“It’s a lot of golf,” admitted Matt Figg, who has played on championship teams four of his five appearances with Wilson Country Club. “There could be options to keep it match play.”

The format was match play the first 25 years. In 2019, the field dwindled from four teams to three and the decision was to alter the format.

WCC, Wedgewood and Willow Springs engaged in 36 holes of individual and two-player stroke competition at Willow Springs on Saturday. WCC and Wedgewood, the two teams with the lowest scores, showed at WCC on Sunday for a 36-hole championship encounter. Two-player and individual match play was invoked.

LIKED OLD FORMAT

“It was OK,” commented Willow Springs veteran Chance Cox. “It was different. But I really kind of liked the format of past years. That’s what it was designed to be and I believe it would have been a better tournament.”

Arguably, the worst possible scenario occurred Saturday morning. Willow Springs played poorly --— so poorly that it needed to overcome a 16-stroke deficit in the afternoon round to finish second and earn a shot at the championship. Willow Springs played the last five holes at a disastrous 30-over-par.

“We didn’t get to play Sunday,” Cox reminded, “and (playing Sunday) would have been nice. It would have been a little more competitive. You are not out of it all of a sudden. I guess it does determine the true best teams.

“It was fun; we just didn’t play well on our home course. I would liked to have thought we had a chance going into the afternoon.”

Added Whitley: “The format is my biggest concern. Willow Springs wanted to play match play. With just two teams playing on Sunday, there’s no element of surprise. Playing the same team all day (on Sunday) is a grind and takes out the element of surprise.”

Wilson Cup founder Kent Williams anticipates the current format being around for at least two more years.

“There was a lot of chatter about the format before and after the tournament,” Williams admitted. “I feel like we should play a full round (two more years). If the three courses want to get together and change something, it’s up to them.”

Williams, in the WCC lineup, acknowledged Saturday’s stroke play was less of a grind personally.

“We accomplished what we intended to do,” he said of the revamped format. “It was about the highest quality competition you will get in Wilson.”

ENDORSED BY HELMER

Wedgewood’s Harry Helmer Jr. strongly advocated keeping the combination of medal and match play.

“From my perspective, it was a lot of golf for somebody not playing a lot of golf,” he admitted. “But it worked out fine. (The format) was creative thinking to figure it out. Hats off to whoever came up with the format.

Continued Helmer, who has missed only a couple of Wilson Cups and was a mainstay for nine of Willow Springs’ 10 championship teams: “I don’t know any reason for it not to stay like it is. I don’t see how anybody could complain. It IS a lot of golf on Saturday.”

Yet, the majority sentiment from Willow Springs was to return to match play.

“I think it will go back,” Cox contended.

Whitley revealed that he especially enjoyed the individual stroke-play competition. But he also mentioned conversation to the extent that less modified alternating shot competition accommodated a WCC team that has traditionally struggled with alternating shot.

However, WCC, shook that trend in Sunday’s nine-hole session.

Whitley also suggested not enough scores are discarded and endorses grouping the Open, Seniors and Super Seniors divisions for scoring purposes and simply counting the lowest six or whatever number scores among the 12 team members.

“There should be more match play,” he added.

BULLDOG CLAMP

No player attracted more attention in the 2019 Wilson Cup than did WCC Seniors entrant Todd Wilkinson.

Wilkinson drew immediate notice by firing the low round of 3-under-par 68 in Saturday morning’s session. He stumbled only when joining Coalter Paxton III in alternating shot on Saturday afternoon. Wilkinson regrouped with sterling play in Sunday’s championship session.

Along the way, opponents began to notice his putting grip. Wilkinson wound his hands around the grip of his putter, bent toward his target, situated almost behind the ball and pushed the putt toward the cup or flag.

Call the entire process unorthodox -- even awkward.

Wedgewood’s Charles Matthews named the putting effort the Bulldog Claw. After all, Wilkinson is the athletic director of the Barton College Bulldogs.

The good-natured nickname prompted a chuckle from Wilkinson, who declares he experimented with numerous grips and stances and the one witnessed in the Wilson Cup is the only one that works.

Opponents were also impressed with his play after undergoing hip and knee surgery.

“Coach was bionic,” observed Williams, his teammate. “He absolutely proved why he should be on that team. He’s been rebuilt! Maybe I should have tried it.”

Wilkinson also drew praise from WCC head professional Josh Price.

“Coach played as good as anybody on our team,” Price commended. “In my opinion, he was probably our most valuable player.”

SOMBER TRIBUTE

The WCC players planned to wear pink ribbons on their hats as a gesture to not only remember but encourage Cheryl Bradley in her battle with cancer.

However, she passed away some three hours before the tournament’s start Saturday morning. The somber WCC players then decided to wear the pink ribbons both days as a tribute to her.

Cheryl was the wife of Cecil Bradley Jr., ex-officio president of Wilson Country Club and a golfing cronie of many of the WCC players. Cheryl and Cecil were always spectator fixtures at Wilson Cups and Wilson County championships — especially when her talented son, Justin Hayes, was participating.

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AWAITING THE WORD

Stephen Harrison has been a big-time performer for more than his share of Wilson Cup championships for Willow Springs and WCC.

Harrison turned in another solid overall performance for WCC during the 26th edition. However, he was not in top form for Sunday’s final round against Wedgewood’s Ryan Pittman. Harrison eventually conceded to Pittman.

“I was waiting for someone to tell me it’s over, so I could throw all my stuff in the pond,” Harrison remarked upon finishing the par-5, No. 12 layout.

FUTURE VENUES

The rotation of the three teams shifts to Wedgewood and Willow Springs in 2020.

Wedgewood will be the venue for the opening round, while the championship 36 holes will be contested at Willow Springs.

In 2021, WCC will be the Saturday host and Wedgewood will be the site of the final.

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