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Georgia Cup A Special Pleasure

ALPHARETTA, GEORGIA | One of the unique amateur events on the global schedule is the Georgia Cup, hosted annually by the Golf Club of Georgia and featuring an 18-hole charity match between the reigning U.S. Amateur champion and the reigning British Amateur champion. It has grown from an intimate club event to a match on the big stage, television and all. The Georgia Cup grew out of a practice the club had of inviting the British Amateur champion to come over on the way to The Masters to get acclimated and play some golf. When favorite son Matt Kuchar won the 1997 U.S. Amateur, the club decided to create an annual competition between the two national amateur champions. Kuchar, a Georgia Tech grad who played and practiced frequently at the club, defeated Craig Watson, 3 and 1, in 1998’s inaugural match. Since then every champion has played, including Colt Knost in 2008 even though he already had turned professional and was not headed to Augusta. The Golf Club of Georgia is a 36-hole private facility located north of Atlanta. The two courses were designed by Arthur Hills, and the Georgia Cup alternates between them. This is a golf club for serious golfers; there is no pool, no tennis, and limited dinner service. It has a great golf spirit about it, as evidenced by the fact that it also hosts the U.S. Collegiate, a big-time schoolboy affair played each fall. For the Georgia Cup, a fairly big production, the red carpet is rolled out to the players, who become honorary members of the club once their amateur status is gone. Proceeds from the event are donated to the Folds Of Honor Foundation and the Georgia State Golf Association Foundation. Each year, an honorary captain is chosen, and all-time great Billy Casper was honored this year. He joyfully signed everything that was placed in front of him and joined an impressive list of captains including former USGA Executive Director David Fay, two-time Walker Cup captain Danny Yates, and Kuchar. This year’s event paired U.S. Amateur champion Steven Fox, a senior at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, against Ireland’s Alan Dunbar, who won the British Amateur at Royal Troon last summer. Fox will presumably turn pro later this year after enjoying all the perks that come with his Amateur title. He is in the hunt for a Walker Cup berth in September. The long-hitting Dunbar, ranked No. 20 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings despite not playing competitively until age 16, will turn pro immediately after The Masters. On this day, the golf was like the weather: uninspired, for the most part. Overnight rains rendered the golf course slow and soggy, and the players were allowed to lift and clean their balls in the fairway. The conditions were raw, arguably providing Dunbar a bit of an advantage; the Irishman won at Troon in very similar conditions. He jumped out to a 2-up lead after birdies on the first two holes, and he widened the lead to 3 up at the turn. Gradually, Fox fought his way back into the match, narrowing it to 1 down after the 15th when Dunbar made a mess of the hole with a wedge in his hand. Fox fanned his drive on No. 16, resulting in a bogey after Dunbar made a nifty up-and-in from a greenside bunker. Two down with two to go, he needed to mount the same kind of comeback he used to win the Amateur at Cherry Hills last summer. He tried, canning a 30-foot birdie putt on the long par-3 17th and extending the match to the final hole. Fox laid up with his second shot on the 564- yard, par-5 final hole, while Dunbar hit his downhill 250-yard second shot into the back bunker. Facing a tricky bunker shot, Dunbar hit it to 12 feet and calmly rolled in the birdie putt for the win. When asked afterward if he considered laying up on the final hole, Dunbar quickly said no. “I didn’t want to take a chance on hitting two wedges and then losing the match,” he said afterward. His win squared the matches at 8-8 since the event’s inception, and it marked the first time the match went the entire 18 holes. The weather, described by Dunbar as typically Irish, knocked the gallery down considerably. Part of the charm of this event is the ability of the gallery to walk alongside the players. In most years, several hundred people would walk along the fairways with the players and watch the action up close. This year, the raw conditions resulted in well fewer than 100 on the first tee. The abysmal pace of play — it took more than four hours for the two players to finish — and worsening conditions sent many of those brave few to the clubhouse early. It’s unfortunate that freakish spring weather put a damper on this year’s event, but due to the marvelous golf spirit found at the Golf Club of Georgia, a new pre- Masters tradition clearly has taken root. Long may it run.


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