Players for the 2015 McNabb Cup at White Lake, Michigan.
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
It is not to be believed. The gallery that had gathered around the 18th green gasped as one. Surely, it was a mad instance of the gods, in their cups, rending reality as a merciless tease of those who yet believed in hope, in fate, in the utter certainty that this would be their year. There is not one among the contenders for the great McNabb Cup who has not said to himself, “This is my year, a year of achievement and validation; a year of victory to cap all victories.”
There are many golf tournaments with their many medals to be won and savored. There are those players who accumulate points, points!, in the hope of a final accounting that will see them placed upon a higher, loftier, team. Points. As if these would matter in the end.
There is only one McNabb Cup. Only one in which a man may fight for an honor higher than any he has hitherto achieved; an honor bestowed in absentia by a long ago maid whose golfing skills earned the accolade of all her many competitors, friends, and family – Miss Isabel McNabb, in 1922.
For the honor of this great Cup, 19 men, for only 19 were found worthy of the competition, 19 men traveled to the White Lake Golf Club in early September 2015 to contest for the Cup.
They had come before. They had battled hard upon the green fields and fairways of White Lake, had taken on the Schmidt Hole, had fought through narrow tree-lined fairways, persevered through the rigors, indeed the horrors, of the 14th and its damnéd pitch over the reedy pond. They knew the test before them. They came prepared in mind, body, and soul for the challenge. Many brought stout liquors with which to ease their minds and loosen their limbs.
Swing coaches, psychologists, friends and lovers… all were of little use once the Captain drove out the mighty first blow. And so what if it went only 35 feet, some say 40. The spirit of that drive went much farther, beyond imagination, beyond telling. It had to be so. (See below for videos of Capt. Bodnar’s speech and driving in.)
Captain Joseph Bodnar of Wyandotte, Mich., accepted his succession from the legendary first McNabb Cup Captain, Robert Zizza (whose absence was acutely felt), with the graciousness and good will that has marked him for greatness throughout his life. Twas he who drove the first shot, who sounded the call to the field. And then, the bloodletting began.
The Great Pinchback of Indian Hills led the charge, decrying before the outing that the Cup would be his. Fell were his strokes, but too many sixes would be his undoing. Sunny Bieszka of Chelsea, who made it known to all that, in a vision, the Cup would be taken by him, gave vigorous chase until disaster on the home hole stilled his quest, though his spirit would remain undaunted.
The Marshall Kidd, David Ramos, he of steady hand and untold talent, was in the chase, bold his strokes, hard his luck.
From across Michigan the great WHO contingent led by Ronco and his lieutenants, Slinglend, Trapani, and Ellington stuck fear into the heart of practically no one, nonetheless they were a force terrible. Welcomed they were afterward for their good cheer, and gifts of copious beverage and good food. (By the way, great Mexican lasagna, Bill.)
Collins the Mariner, also the self-appointed MHT Chaplain, found no gods willing to back his cause, though piteously did he supplicate. Davis, an accidental Champion of two years earlier, was clearly distracted, lost in a fog of delusion that golf could be somewhat entertaining if not mastered.
Tim Stroshine, the Phantom Flyer, the defending Champion, could not match his feats of the previous year. Nor could Jack Maynard, a stalwart McNabb Cup veteran, who fell victim to the 14th with a double-figure that dashed his hopes for a victory.
Hugh Cameron, representing the True North, Oh Canada, was a strong contender, matching nearly blow-for-blow the leaders for the Cup. Commissioner Hill, Slammin’ Slaby, and the Eastern gunslinger W.A. Bills found their efforts withering under the steady pressure that only the Cup can manifest. Bills is one of the original McNabb Cup contenders and has a game that is justly respected. He is welcomed at all events.
Only the Wee Mon Staudacher held his ground. Despite his three birdies on the back nine, despite this magnificent charge, the Wee Mon double bogied the final hole. Even had he parred, it would not have been enough. For a new McNabb Champion and emerged from the midst of the Michigan Hickory Tour. A youngster, barely teethed, a U.S. Navy veteran, a savvy student of the golfing swing, an upstart crow who has taken the Michigan hickory world and given it a good shake – the 2015 McNabb Cup Champion is Jason Shaffer. Remember his name.
Young Shaffer – or “The Flint” as he is known to his galleries – is fearless in his game, characterized by a long, lazy backswing that is the baffling precursor to a vicious downswing and follow-through. He will decant, at length if you are not quick enough to depart the room, on the nature of the swing and the various mechanics thereunto appurtenant. He is a quick study, having taken up the hickory game only earlier this year. (Jason is shown at right, following his victory.)
Our Champion took his victory with a 79-net 70, marred only by three sixes on his card, one of these on the hated and feared 14th hole, a par five in which a second shot must be so placed that it falls short of a reedy burn, this followed by a pitch of some 70 to 90 yards over a pond plagued by an abundance of choking reeds that all but obscure a green backed by bunkers right and short.
The Wee Mon fell four back with an 83 followed by the Great Cameron with 84. There is no use in telling the other scores. They are appended below in the revealing and absolute finality of a black and white scoring sheet.
The McNabb Cup is low net event which also honors the lowest gross score. Shaffer took both the Cup and the low score honors, a first in McNabb Cup history. Good god, it may not be the last as long as The Flint is in the field. It was this youngster, this fresh-faced hickory convert who gave the august field a stark notice of defiant, composed, and self-confident challenge. Hear ye, a new challenger has arisen in the ranks! A new Champion has come forth and born away the Cup for his own. It will be our task, our sworn duty as McNabb Cup contenders, to hone our games to their very best in order to show this youngster that we, his elders in this ancient game, are to be taken seriously, or at least treated to some small deference (whisky will do) as his tee shots sail far beyond our own.
In order to complete the picture of the great McNabb Cup weekend of 2015, it should be noted that the players were treated to a Friday round at the wonderful Muskegon Country Club. Originally laid out by Tom Bendelow, it was re-designed by Donald Ross in 1920 and has hosted regional U.S. Open qualifiers. The club’s pro, Stephany Fleet, and an assistant joined us for a back nine to test out their game with hickories. They fared quite well. In fact, the two pros and two members who joined us were so taken with the hickory sport that they have invited us back and are entertaining the thought of purchasing four sets of hickories for use by their members. We are grateful to the Club, its members and professionals for an outstanding outing.
Following that memorable round, Jim Collins hosted players at his boat, which is moored in a nearby marina. Not bad, a round on a beautiful Ross course followed by an afternoon of good food and drink on the water. A nearby brew pub served as a great dinner spot.
As has become the tradition, the century-old McNabb Cottage on Lake Michigan served as the post-round designation for dinner and drinks. Here, Captain Bodnar announced his choice for the 2016 Captain – Mr. Gary Trapani, of Wyandotte, Mich. (“He has been one of my greatest mentors,” Capt. Bodnar said, wiping a solitary tear.)
Also here the McNabb Cup Champion received his trophy and the runners-up were announced. Medals prepared by Kirkwood of St. Andrews were awarded. Celebrations went well into the night. It is forbidden to say more than this.
It is rumored that the McNabb Cup will become an invitational event, with letters being sent in late April. The Committee assures us, however, that those of good intent who apply with good hearts, will always find a place in the field.
The Cup shall be contested on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, with, we hope, a Friday round on the Muskegon Country Club.
Well done to all the players and, to Miss McNabb, we again raise our glasses in tribute and in anticipation of the 2016 Cup.
2015 McNabb Cup Champion – Jason Shaffer, Net 70
Runner Up – Larry Pinchback, Net 72 (scorecard playoff)
Third – Tim Stroshine, Net 72
Low Score – Jason Shaffer, 79
Runner Up – Scott Staudacher, 83
Third – Hugh Cameron, 84
All scores below.
See the larger photo gallery on the MHT Facebook page.
Players on the porch of the McNabb Cottage. This one’s for Bob.
One of the par 3s at Muskegon Country Club.
Capt. Zizza’s words for the new Captain.
Captain Bodnar’s acceptance speech.
Capt. Bodnar drives in the 2015 McNabb Cup.