It’s still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die.
As Time Goes By
Herman Hupfeld, 1942
In Homer’s immortal epic, The Iliad, are verses that describe the great warriors preparing for battle – checking their weaponry, their shields, helmets, buckles, and armor. This is a favored theme of writers and movie producers who show their protagonists gearing up for some world-in-the-balance conflict. So it was on the first tee of the White Lake Golf Club on Sept. 13, 2014 as the McNabb Cup field girded their loins for the contest to come.
Nineteen men entered their names in the list for Aunt Isabelle McNabb’s honored cup; she who won the silver trophy in 1922 in the first flight at a country club whose name has been lost to history, the only clue being a letter “H” on the engraving. (“Belle” McNabb is shown at right.)
Nineteen men who were checking their strange weapons for proper loft and lie, seeing that grips were tight and well-whipped; ensuring that weight and balance were true. The Great Cameron from the True North (Le Vrai Nord fort et libre) had traveled far for the glory of The Cup, word of this marvelous trophy having reached his land of hardy veterans. He would be sent forth in the same grouping as a very perfect gentle knight of the game, The McMullin from Virginia, a tested champion whose conquests are long reading.
A golfer there was, and he a worthy man,
Who, from the moment that he first began
To golf about the world, loved chivalry,
Truth, honour, freedom and all courtesy.
Chuck McMullin and Roger Hill are two of the original founders of the Society of Hickory Golfers. Their presence in the field lent a gravitas to the event that was not lost on the world media who hung on their every word. Indeed, the entry of The Cameron from Canada made the event an international occasion, causing the papers in that country to pinch off an inch of space from the daily brewery and hockey reports to consider the potential value of a McNabb Cup title holder from the provinces.
“Aye, lads, thanks for having me down,” said Hugh Cameron, his Paul Bunyan-esque stature and gravelly voice giving pause to his competitors. Cameron is a National Hickory Championship veteran whose 6 handicap is no fluke. An oil industry boiler maker, former amateur hockey player, and beloved uncle, Cameron is easy going almost everywhere… except when a title is on the line.
Such were the contestants, blooded McNabb Cup regulars knowing full well what it would take this day to win the Cup – steeled nerves, a steady eye, a trusty mashie, and a generous handicap. It is a gross event. That is to say, it is played as a net event.
This would be the fourth playing of the McNabb Cup, an 18-hole, one-day test of mettle over the White Lake Golf Club, whose original 9 holes were designed by Tom Bendelow in 1916. A second nine was opened for play in 1927, holes designed by members Al Seckel and E.E. Roberts.
The weather had been uncertain for days, a storm passing only the night before littering the course with downed branches and leafy litter. The morning unfolding to a damp and coolish 50, where only seven days earlier a high of 93 was recorded. Anxious participants tossed in their beds listening as rain beat down on the roof. Cool though the morning was, it did not rain – it is said that it never rains on the Michigan Hickory Tour.
The McNabb Cup is the final major of the short northern season and there was much at stake, from Tour Points to the leading money title, not counting endorsements, women, cars, and fickle fame.
In front of the old White Lake clubhouse, official McNabb Cup photographer Roger Hill called the men together for a photogravure that would be shared with the news media for dissemination across the world. After these historical records were completed, an announcement of some importance was to be made.
An inaugural Captain of The Cup had been chosen by secret ballot and his name was to be made public. The new office carries great significance, according to the press release, its title holder to represent The Cup in all his travels, to uphold the honor of its namesake and to ensure that all players conduct themselves, as much as possible given this age of relentless media scrutiny, with the dignity and bearing expected of all McNabb Cup hopefuls.
It was a nervous moment as McNabb Secretary James Davis walked to the front of a hushed crowd. A woman swooned. Would secret ambitions be fulfilled?
Mr. Robert Zizza of Whitmore Lake, Mich. was announced as the 2014-2015 Captain. After a stunned silence, there were loud huzzahs, a few catcalls, and someone shouted for a recount. The Secretary was adamant, however, and Mr. Zizza was called to office. Momentarily shaken, Mr. Zizza rediscovered his customary bravado, thanked the men for this great honor and avowed that he would dispatch his high office with all due vigilance. Then, to loud cheers, the new Captain drove in the 2014 Cup with a sharp smack of his trusty driving iron.
The Cameron later described the Captain as:
Small and puny
Like Mickey Rooney
But big and bad
Like Alan Ladd
Time will tell whether that will stick.
The 2014 contest was characterized by game faces of rigid set, of deep emotions that oft erupted in spouts of fiery epithets. The Scorekeeper, one Joseph Bodnar of Dearborn, Mich. (the nickname because it is said of him in the east of Michigan that if there are scores to settle, then go see the Scorekeeper as he will “even the score”), set forth with awful determination that, by degrees, gave way to wrath, fury and then the acceptance of a game brought low by trees, bunkers, and the skewed flight of his errant irons.
Chuck McMullin, a Scottish Hickory Open title holder, found that his customary sharpness was on vacation. After several holes, arborists from town began to surround beloved trees in a vain attempt to prevent further harm to their favorite beeches, pines, maples, and elms. McMullin found ’em all. By the time the round was over he had developed an involuntary habit of cupping hand to ear, listening for the unwanted “thwock” of ball against bole. Well, it is understandable, as even the most seasoned veterans are apt to be unnerved by their first attempt at Miss Belle’s Cup. She is not won lightly.
The Captain himself moderated his round with several sips from a silver flask, which both soothed an aching shoulder and abetted several new golf rulings. (“I’m the captain, damn it, and we’ll do it this way!”) He eventually signed his card for a 108, a special number in some religious circles, but the net 83 settled him comfortably to the rear of the field.
Sunny Bob Bieszka, the erstwhile designer/artist, who was outspoken in his lust for The McNabb Cup – “It will be mine” – also shot 108, an appalling 8-4-8 finish dimming his shine and bringing him a net 80.
Paul Carlson, the Grand Rapids man with an eye for original clubs, put down a 109 for the high score of the day. It did not unhinge him, did not leave a mark, for his was the demeanor of a man for whom disaster and calamity are as smoke and mirrors. He was heard, though, muttering about some new clubs he had found that were rumored to produce shots that could not miss. “We will see. Next year, next year,” he kept saying.
Also in the 100+ club was Gary Trapani (see below), a large man who put one in mind of a drill sergeant. Yet, when he spoke, you knew he had a heart of gold. He won the hearts and minds of many that day, and many were the ladies who swooned at his passing and followed his every movement on the course.
Mr. Trapani was one of several new contestants for the Cup who had traveled from Wyandotte, Mich., the representatives of a shady golf syndicate that flies under the acronym of the WHO (Wyandotte Hickory Organization). Ed Ronco, their leader, and lieutenants Lloyd Slinglend, Bill Ellington, and Trapani, plotted their way around the course with chilling accuracy. No one dared interfere with their golf swings, no one questioned their interpretation of the rules, no one spoke when they were on the tee. No one had to, because the WHO men are the soul of golfing camaraderie, respect, and friendliness. Indeed, Secretary Davis, a recent WHO inductee himself, described the WHO as a worthy organization that helped widows, the weak, rescued cats from trees, and gave money to orphans, as well as to the local high school golf team whom they were instructing in the mysteries of modern hickory golf. They also are heroes at their local pubs where the waitresses skirmish for the honor of serving them… food and drink, that is. These are reputable men.
Secretary Davis also told this reporter that weeks before the tournament he was receiving emails from players (he would not identify them) who claimed they would “seize the Cup” or would rename it with their own monikers. “It’s the same thing every year,” he said with a sigh. “It’s called ‘Cup Fever’ and it strikes without regard to rank or status.”
So hot is this fever when it strikes, he said, that grown men have been known to fantasize about winning, wrecking their careers, jeopardizing their marriages. “Even children in their innocent games have been heard to say ‘This putt is to win The Cup’.”
Such antics do not faze Cup veteran Roger Hill, official photographer of the event. It was he who put his name on the inaugural event, back in Twenty Eleven. A legend to McNabb Cup wannabes, Hill handles media fanfare and autograph hounds as easily as a cup of Three Buck Chuck. “Sockahootchee,” he said in response to a reporter’s inane question about pin placements. “Don’t matter where the pins are, I’ll find ‘em.” And so he did on the 14th, a 422-yard par 5 of lamentable character whose unfortunate location of a dastardly pine tree is the cause of much controversy and gnashing of teeth among club members. Hill found the pin on this hole, his 11th stroke confidently banging the back of the cup.
Jack Maynard, the song writer and country musician, carded a smooth 100/net 83; while Dave Ramos, the Marshall gambler and legendary Michigan Hickory Tour clubmaker, brought home an 89/net 74. During his media interview, he said something about headaches and the removal of a brain tumor the day before. Todd Riker, the 2012 champion, for some reason having focused on his eye practice, wife and children rather than his golf game, scored 84/net 73.
The 2013 champion, Secretary Davis, hoping for a repeat of the magic that earned him his title (that and some creative scoring techniques) could only manage a despairing 97, a pair of snowmen freezing his ambition. The repeated demands of the Captain, his playing partner, to help him empty his flask likely was contributory. Davis is unaccustomed to strong drink as the subsequent wheezing and watery eyes bore testimony. His game, therefore, grew uncertain with each outburst from the increasingly exuberant Captain.
There were three men, however, for whom golf that afternoon did not involve striking trees, sending balls to watery graves in the pond on 13, or losing them under leaves and branches. We speak of Scott Staudacher, Tim Stroshine, and Larry Pinchback.
Staudacher is a wee mon of the stature of Ben Hogan. The manager of a car dealership in Grand Rapids, he has a 10 handicap and is deadly accurate with approach irons. Stroshine, a 25-handicap man (under review) is a former fighter pilot instructor and engineer who has a fondness for fast cars. He has come close to capturing the Cup, finishing second in the inaugural 2011 contest. And Mr. Pinchback, who plays off 20, is a quiet man whom only the arrogant or unknowing would dismiss. He is “sneaky short” by his own description. He routinely hits every fairway, places approach shots either on or close to greens, chips well and putts well enough to be, well, quite annoying. For god’s sake, he never misses a fairway. I mean, really.
It would be these three men who would determine the outcome. Pinchback carded two tough 7s on the opening holes and would add two more on the back, the double on the 14th costing him dearly. Staudacher, The Cameron, and Bill Ellington were the only three with nothing higher than a 6 on their cards. Staudacher, however, took four of them on the front nine before blazing the back with a 37. He was one of only three to par the now-hated 14th.
Staudacher and Pinchback were among the groups that finished early. With the scores tallied, Pinchback’s net 70 had just nipped Staudacher’s net 71 to place him as “the leader in the cottage.”
The final foursome was still out on the course, making their way with all the fire and determination of 10 o’clock scholars. At the McNabb cottage, where competitors go for drinks and food after the round, Pinchback was a nervous wreck. Men kept congratulating him, assuring him that he was the latest to achieve hickory golf’s grand pinnacle. He acknowledged every salute with a wan smile.
At long last the final foursome appeared, just in time for supper. The Scorekeeper was handed the cards for the last tally and, lo, Tim Stroshine of Maumee, Ohio had shot a 93 and with his quite generous handicap of 25 (also under review) came in with a net 68 to become the 2014 McNabb Cup champion. Pinchback accepted the news with a mixture of relief and disappointment and was gracious in congratulating the new champion. Staudacher, whose 81 was the lowest gross score of the day, was happy to have bested the mighty Cameron by two. Other men in the 80s were Riker with 84, Ronco with 86, and Ramos with 89.
Stroshine, who will have his name added to The Cup, was awarded a handsome pilsner glass, and given custody of a handsome silver traveling trophy. Finally, he will also be offered the use of “Grandmother’s Bedroom” in the McNabb cottage for the 2015 playing of The Cup. Staudacher in third place, and Pinchback in second, received silver medals with blue and white ribbons.
“I’m proud to have my name placed with all of the great players who have won before and am humbled to be mentioned with such esteemed champions all,” Stroshine said in his victory speech cut short by applause and because it was announced that Mary Zizza’s lasagna was ready to be served.
The ensuing party lasted well into the evening. Captain Zizza announced Joe Bodnar as his vice-captain, to assume the captaincy in 2015. The Captain also began referring to Bodnar as his consigliere (an advisor to mafia chieftains, strictly, but, in this instance….). Throughout the evening the Captain would lean toward his consigliere for advice and consultation before any pronouncements were made. As Bodnar is also “The Scorekeeper”, McNabb Cup players would do well to watch their deportment this coming year. He announced to the assembled that he had a “whole year to consider things.”
Much was drunk, a great meal was consumed and many were the stories and anecdotes related. It was said that rarely have men laughed so hard for so long. This is the true spirit of Miss McNabb’s trophy – that a group of friends can assemble for golf, good fun and the enjoyment of one another’s company.
Congratulations Tim Stroshine, aka The Phantom Flyer. Your win is well deserved.
We are grateful to:
- Aunt Isabelle McNabb for her grace, individualism, and honor that are the spirit of The Cup
- Chris Hill for the delicious breakfast quiches that fueled our Sunday morning round at the Old Channel Trail
- Mary Zizza for the two pans of exquisite lasagna that disappeared with alarming speed
- Barbara Davis for cookies and brownies that also evaporated quickly
- Roger Hill for his good nature and skill in recording the 2014 McNabb Cup
- Jimmy Schmidt and Charlie and Sal Dupree for opening their guest rooms to us
- Various others who brought food and beverage to share
Finally, we acknowledge the spirit of modern hickory golf so wonderfully epitomized by the late Ralph Livingston III, and his gift to us of shot glass mementos, each etched with the emblem of a golf course he admired and had played during his own too brief time with us.
May all hickory golfers everywhere enjoy as we did this past weekend and continue in the good traditions of honor, sportsmanship, and camaraderie that are
The McNabb Cup