Four Champions Crowned
Sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida, served as the host for the 26th annual United States Golf Teachers Cup held this past October at Plantation Preserve Golf & Country Club. Participants came from all corners in the United States, as well as having an international contingent vying for honors.
Plantation Preserve itself was in fine shape, as the Korn Ferry Tour’s fall qualifying tournament (Q-School) was held there the prior week, and was manicured to tour standards. With greens rolling fast and true, the paspalum fairways also provided excellent lies for those who were accurate off the tee. Plenty of water and rough awaited those who were more wayward with their driver.
A concurrent pro-am competition was held as several USGTF/WGTF members brought amateur partners to share in the competitive experience. Those in attendance agree that the tournament experience met their expectations, as the competition was good, the course was ideal, and the south Florida weather cooperated with ample sunshine and warm temperatures.
Open DivisionBen Martin from Trinidad and Tobago headed north from his island home to try his hand for the first time at the United States Golf Teachers Cup. Martin (not to be confused with the PGA Tour player with the same name) is an experienced professional competitor, not only in his home country but around the Caribbean and other locales.
Martin captured the Open division championship by firing a record two-round score of 67-65 – 132, his 12-under-par score eclipsing Dave Belling’s longstanding record from 2014. Martin started the tournament off slowly, parring the first three holes, before recording three birdies over the final six holes of his outward nine to shoot 33, matching eventual runner-up Ken Kim’s score. A double bogey 5 on the par-3 12th hole temporarily slowed Martin, but he finished with three birdies to record a two-stroke lead over Kim. No one else was really in the running for championship honors.
The final round began with Martin scoring five birdies and an eagle in his first eight holes, stretching his lead over Kim to eight strokes, and the rout was on. He eased up on his final nine, shooting 35 and wound up winning by 11 strokes over Kim. His 11-shot margin also established an Open division record. Dennis Caban finished third with 75-73 – 148.
Four experienced and strong competitors teed it up in the Ladies division in 2022. Unlike in the Open division, where one competitor stood out with his playing record prior to the competition, no one was favored to win as everyone had equal chances on paper.
Heidi Aittama, playing in her first U.S. Cup, played extremely steady golf the first day as she bogeyed only three holes the entire day to go with 15 pars, resulting in a 75. Alice Brown, a longtime U.S. Cup and regional championship competitor, was four shots back and still within striking distance with a 79. It seemed it would be a two-player race on the final day.
Aittama finally made a birdie on her opening hole of the second round, but briefly gave the other players some hope shortly thereafter when she made five bogeys in a six-hole stretch. However, she closed with a score of -2 over her final nine holes to put any doubts as to her ability to win the tournament to rest. Trish Beucher matched Aittama’s final-round 74 for low score of the day and finished as the runner-up.
The Senior division featured an incredible battle royale the final day, with the lead see-sawing back-and-forth at a dizzying pace among the four competitors in the final group before Michael Wolf emerged victorious. Wolf, no stranger to winning, also won the Open division at Walt Disney World in 2015.
David Lippucci and Kirk Junge each shot 69 to lead after the first round, with Jose Esteves a stroke back at 70 and Wolf another stroke back at 71. Esteves and Junge birdied the first hole in the final round while Wolf and Lippucci bogeyed, signaling the first lead change. Esteves appeared to be in control, taking a two-shot lead after the group’s third hole and maintained that margin through the first nine. Junge was in second at that point with Lippucci and Wolf, both at -1 and three shots back, appearing to be long shots to win at that point.
Esteves bogeyed his 10th hole of the day, and then the turning point happened. Wolf went on a birdie tear, scoring three consecutive on his 12th, 13th and 14th holes of the day, with Esteves taking an unfortunate double bogey on the latter hole. At this point, Wolf enjoyed a two-stroke lead. Lippucci birdied his 15th hole of the day to make things interesting, but a double bogey on his 16th ended his chances. Wolf coasted home with five consecutive pars to end the round and win the championship.
Ron Cox has won the last four USGTF regional championships he has played in, so like Wolf, he, too, is no stranger to winning. Cox fired rounds of 72-68 – 140 to romp home with a 13-stroke victory over Jerry Ellstrom. Cox’s margin of victory established a record for all divisions in the U.S. Cup.
D.B. Merrill, a perennial U.S. Cup player, shot 75 in the first round to stay within striking distance of Cox, but he did not play his best during the final round and was no factor. Ellstrom and Anthony Benny both shot 75 the final round to shoot the best score of any player not named Cox, and Benny wound up in solo third place.
Cox kept a clean card the final round as he recorded four birdies and 14 pars. For the tournament, he had eight birdies and over-par blemishes on only three holes of the 36-hole tournament.
The United States Golf Teachers Cup is the national championship event of the United States Golf Teachers Federation and is open to all Certified and Master Golf Teaching Professionals who are members in good standing in the WGTF. The tournament is held annually at various locations around the United States and welcomes all eligible participants.