Wind is always the best defense Niagara Falls Country Club has against low scores. The world's best amateurs attack the golf course every year during the Porter Cup, and a stiff breeze usually repels any charge at the tournament record.
A steady gust might be the course's only protection this year. Wind's fellow guardian -- ball-engulfing rough -- is on hiatus. So if the air is calm this week, historic Porter Cup numbers could get blown away.
"If we get some wind I think we'll be OK," tournament director Steve Denn said. "If we don't get wind, I think you're going to see a record score."
The relatively dry year Western New York is experiencing is great for golfers but tough on the greens keepers of the 49th Porter Cup. When the field arrives Wednesday for the first round of the four-day tournament, it will see less grass than usual.
"There's not a lot of rough out there," Denn said. "We're used to seeing rough. It's one of the things we're known for. Because we're not a long course [6,621 yards], we tend to get the rough to a nice level, and that helps defend the course. But this year, with the weather and the way it's been, we weren't able to grow the rough up the way we like."
That could help make Casey Wittenberg's 266 obsolete. He fashioned a tournament-best 14 under in 2003, the same year Bill Haas drove his way to a course-record 60 on the par-70 layout.
There are plenty of contenders to reach record status. Eight of the top 10 amateurs in the world are playing, including second-ranked Dustin Johnson of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and third-ranked Kyle Stanley of Clemson University.
Webb Simpson, the sixth-ranked standout from Wake Forest, is back for his third Porter Cup. Australian Rick Kulacz returns for the second try while carrying the No. 8 world ranking. Both finished in the top 21 of last year's tournament.
"We've got the best field of the summer at this point," Denn said. "We're not going to get a lot of European players for the simple fact they've got a lot of tournaments that they play over there, but we've got the cream of the crop as far as the American players."
Three area golfers earned spots in the field, led by Justin Regier of East Amherst. Regier, the son of Buffalo Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier, was one shot off the lead after the first round last year before finishing in a tie for 34th. He will be joined by West Seneca's Jeff Wolniewicz, the two-time Buffalo District Player of the Year, and Sherman's Ryan Swanson, who will be a senior at St. Bonaventure.
They all will be aiming for Seung-su Han. The UNLV junior is the first reigning champion to defend his title since 2001. He finished at 10 under last year to earn a two-shot victory.
"Winning the Porter Cup was huge for him," UNLV coach Dwaine Knight said. "As he has moved up different levels of golf, he has become more comfortable with it."
Han played well this spring after a dispiriting fall. He couldn't crack the Rebels' travel team for the first half of the season, but he recovered to finish fourth at the Mountain West Conference Championships and was named to the all-conference team. The South Korean is ranked 45th in the world.
"I wouldn't put him as one of the pretournament favorites," Denn said, "but I don't think he was one of the pretournament favorites last year, so anything can happen."
One golfer of note withdrew last week. Dan Summerhays, who last Sunday became the first amateur to win an event on the professional Nationwide Tour, decided to turn pro after rising to No. 5 in the rankings.
"He's only got three classes left at BYU. He can do those kind of on the road," Denn said. "They're offering him this year and all of next where he doesn't have to worry about Monday qualifying. I can't say I blame him."
The Americans in the Porter Cup will swing for the title and a chance to represent their country. The Walker Cup Match, a biennial event featuring the United States against England and Ireland, will be held Sept. 8-9 in Northern Ireland. The 10-man team will be selected early next month. U.S. captain Buddy Marucci is playing the Porter Cup, so American hopefuls can give him an up-hclose look at why they should make the squad.
"It's pretty highly sought-after to make that team," Denn said, "and anybody who is going to be of consideration is going to be playing the Porter Cup."
Jim McLean, ranked among the top three golf coaches in American, is holding a clinic on the 10th tee following Wednesday's opening round (approximately 5:15 p.m.). Admission is free.
Mclean has been the Teacher of the Year in the Met Section and South Florida Section and is a former National PGA Teacher of the Year.
He currently writes for Golf Digest and has been a featured instructor for the Golf Channel sinces its inception in 1995.
>At a glance
What: 49th Porter Cup
Where: Niagara Falls Country Club, 505 Mountain View Drive, Lewiston
When: Wednesday through Saturday
Cost: Free admission
How to get there: Take 190 North across Grand Island bridges. Take Exit 25A (Military Road), make left on Military Road. Make right on Lewiston Road. Make right on Mountain View Drive.
On the Web: www.portercup.com