Ryder Cup event on tap

The 19th annual Highlands County Ryder Cup competition tees off today at Sebring Golf club. The friendly event pits the best local amateurs against the area professionals in a two-day competition in best ball, alternate-shot and singles matches. The pro team has won the last three years, but the amateur squad still leads the series 10-8. "We're thrilled to be hosting such a wonderful event as the Highlands County Ryder Cup," said Sebring Golf Club professional Kim Darrow. "The weather is going to be perfect and the course is in great shape.
"It should be a lot of fun and we invite the public to come out and watch some outstanding golf." The amateur team is captained by Blake Liles, a former Sebring High golf standout, who was the medalist in the amateur qualifier with an impressive 5-under 67. Liles,who hits it very long, had nines of 33-34 for his 67 which included an eagle on the par 5 eighth hole. "It's a real honor to be the captain of the amateur team," said Liles. "My 67 was pretty solid and I hit a lot of fairways and greens. I've played in this event twice before, but never as the team captain. "I think we have a pretty good group of players and our goal is to win." The Ryder Cup qualifier attracted 28 players with the low 12 scores automatically on the team and the next three scores are alternates. Bobby Barben placed second with a 2-under 70, Mike Browning and Sebring High freshman Sam Rogers tied at 73, Curtis Donovan and former Avon Park High standout Greg Gentry each shot 74, Bud Wester, Jeffrey Klingbeil and Larry Roy tied at 75. Rene Brown carded a 76 as did Mike Lingenfelder and Mark Hopkins. Nic Staffieri, Mike Moore and Mike Cleghorn each shot a 77 and are the alternates. To score well on the tight and demanding Sebring Golf Club course, accuracy off the tee and a solid short game are necessary. "You have to keep the ball in play to score well on this course, Liles said. "I think we have a lot of talented players who have a lot of experience and we have a good chance to win." The pro team is stacked as usual with Sebring Golf Club professional Kim Darrow the captain. Sebring Golf Club assistant pro Cody Brownell is on the team along with Pete DuPriest, Ryan Chandler, Jason Laman, Nell Hayes, Mike Lamere, Jason Beatty, Andy Kesling, Geoff Fisk, Cory DeCoteau, Chip Curcio, Dave Schumaker, Jimmy Beasley and Joe Staffieri. The amateur team is probably the strongest its been in several years," Brownell said. "But we have a pretty good group ourselves and it should be a great two days of competition." Both sides want to win, but the respect and camaraderie between the golfers is what makes this event so special. "This is a great event and playing against the pros is always enjoyable," said Liles. "Their is a lot of respect on both sides and we're looking forward to playing." The competition begins at 8 a.m. today with the beat-ball matches and after lunch, the alternate-shot matches will be played. On Sunday, 13 singles matches will be played, in case of a tie the defending champion retains the Ryder Cup. Last year's competition was close until Sunday when the pros utilized their ability to dominate the singles and cruised to the victory. mpinson@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5841