Golf preview: Picking the Porter Cup's best ever is no easy chore - The Buffalo News

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Golf preview: Picking the Porter Cup's best ever is no easy chore

The origins of this project were simple enough.

During last year’s Porter Cup, News deputy sports editor Bob DiCesare and I were looking through the program put out by the tournament committee when we came across a page with the current top 25 in the world golf rankings, highlighting just how many of them had competed at Niagara Falls Country Club.

Every year, the tournament is described as one of the premier amateur stroke-play events in the country. But seeing that list of the world’s best, with so many of them having come through Lewiston, really drove that point home.

It also led to a plan, which was to form an all-decades team. The Porter Cup’s website lists 2,277 players who have competed in the event since it debuted in 1959. For some of them, it was the highlight of their golf career. For others, it was a mere pit stop on the road to stardom.

As you might imagine, narrowing down a five-member team for five decades (for our purposes, 1959 was included as part of the 1960s, while the 2000s is just one team, since those who competed from 2010 until the present day are still establishing themselves) was not an easy task. Multiple World Golf Hall of Fame members didn’t make the list. Special attention was given to a player’s career accomplishments, including and especially after their Porter Cup appearance(s).

With input from DiCesare, News Sports Reporter Mark Gaughan and long-time Niagara Gazette sportswriter Bill McGrath – the dean of Porter Cup coverage – here is The Buffalo News’ Porter Cup all-decades team:

1960s

Ward Wettlaufer
Porter Cup appearances: 10 (1959-60, ’68, ’70)
Best finish: Won (1960, ’65)
Career highlights: A 22-time club champion at the Country Club of Buffalo, Wetlaufer is the only Western New Yorker to ever play on a U.S. Walker Cup team, winning both of his matches in 1959. Held the Porter Cup scoring record for 25 years, from 1965 to 1989.

From left: Bill Harvey, John Konsek and Ward Wettlaufer.

John Konsek
Porter Cup appearances: 5 (1959-63)
Best finish: Won (1959, ’61)
Career highlights: The best-ever area amateur player, Konsek’s competitive playing days ended when he entered medical school at 20, on the way to becoming an oncologist. While at Purdue, Konsek defeated Ohio State’s Jack Nicklaus, who would later say Konsek could have been one of the greatest players ever.

Lanny Wadkins
Porter Cup appearances: 2 (1968, ’70)
Best finish: T2 (1970)
Career highlights: A 21-time PGA Tour winner, including the 1977 PGA championship, Wadkins’ amateur career was just as decorated as his time as a pro. Known for his competitiveness and quick pace of play, Wadkins won the 1970 U.S. Amateur and represented the U.S. on two Walker Cups and nine Ryder Cups.

Deane Beman
Porter Cup appearances: 3 (1964-66)
Best finish: Won (1964)
Career highlights: Beman will always best be known for his time as PGA Tour commissioner from 1974-94, a time when professional golf skyrocketed in popularity and purses grew along with it. He was an accomplished player, too, with four Tour title, two U.S. Amateurs and his Porter Cup win.

Gary Cowan
Porter Cup appearances: 9 (1969-70, 1976, 1978, 1980-81, 1985, 1988-90)
Best finish: Won (1969)
Career highlights: Just how good was Cowan? He was voted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1967, at the age of 28. An eight-time Masters participant, Cowan won just about every title an amateur player can win, including two U.S. Amateurs. He represented Canada 19 times in international play.

Honorable mentions: Mark McCormack, Bill Harvey, Leonard Thompson, Pete Dye, Vinny Giles.

1970s

Ben Crenshaw
Porter Cup appearances: 2 (1972-73)

Ben Crenshaw

Best finish: Won (1972)
Career highlights: A two-time Masters champion and 17-time winner on the PGA Tour, Crenshaw won in Lewiston during one of the best runs by an amateur the sport has ever seen. He won three straight NCAA championships from 1971-73. His influence continues today through his course design company.

John Cook
Porter Cup appearances: 3 (1977-79)
Best finish: Won (1979)
Career highlights: Cook’s 12-foot birdie putt capped a final-round 66 and gave him a thrilling victory in ’79 – the only time he led the tournament all week. From there, he won 11 times on the PGA Tour and has added 10 more wins on the Champions Tour, on which he’s still active.

Scott Simpson
Porter Cup appearances: 3 (1975-77)
Best finish: Won (1976)
Career highlights: The same year Simpson won in Lewiston, he played his first event on the PGA Tour. It was the first of many. His PGA Tour career consisted of 600 starts, with seven victories, including the 1987 U.S. Open. He’s made 226 more starts on the Champions Tour.

Bobby Clampett
Porter Cup appearances: 2 (1978-79)
Best finish: Won (1978)
Career highlights: A three-time first-team All-American, Clampett shot a course-record 62 in the second round and birdied 15, 16 and 17 in the final round to win in 1978. His pro career didn’t live up to expectations, with just one PGA Tour win. He also had a successful broadcasting career.

Bobby Clampett

Corey Pavin
Porter Cup appearances: 2 (1978-79)
Best finish: 5th (1979).
Career highlights: Although he didn’t win in Lewiston, Pavin went on to have a Hall of Fame-caliber career that included 660 starts on the PGA Tour, with 15 wins, including a major championship. He spent more than 150 weeks in a row in the top 10 of the world golf rankings.

Honorable mentions: Curtis Strange, Jay Haas, Craig Stadler, Howard Twitty, Andy North.

1980s

Jay Sigel
Porter Cup appearances: 28 (1962, 1964-65, 1967, 1969-83, 1985-93)
Best finish: Won (1975, ’81, ’87).
Career highlights: The best player in Porter Cup history, Sigel is the only three-time winner of the event. The top amateur in the country as an insurance salesman in the ‘70s and ‘80s, he also had six second-place finishes. After joining the Champions Tour in 1994, he won eight times.

Jay Sigel.

Mark O’Meara
Porter Cup appearances: 2 (1979-80)
Best finish: T6 (1980)
Career highlights: A World Golf Hall of Famer, O’Meara has 14 career PGA Tour wins, two major championships and won the Tour Player of the Year award in 1998, when he won the Masters and Open Championship. He has won tournaments in Europe, Japan, Australia and South America.

Jim Furyk
Porter Cup appearances: 4 (1988-91)
Best finish: T29 (1991)
Career highlights: While he never seriously threatened in Lewiston, Furyk has gone on to a stellar pro career that includes 17 PGA Tour wins and counting. The most recently named Ryder Cup captain, he’s the only player in Tour history to shoot a 58, and the 2003 U.S. Open champion.

Scott Verplank
Porter Cup appearances: 3 (1983-85)
Best finish: Won (1983, ’85)
Career highlights: Verplank finished first, second and first in his three years in Lewiston, part of a sparking amateur career that included a win on the PGA Tour. Injuries prevented Verplank from reaching the heights many expected, but he still has five career wins and two Ryder Cup appearances.

Davis Love III
Porter Cup appearances: 2 (1982, ’84)
Best finish: T22 (1982)
Career highlights: A 21-time winner on the PGA Tour, Love has made more than $44 million in career earnings. He has one major victory, at the 197 PGA Championship, is the last to be achieved with a wooden-headed driver. He’s made 735 Tour starts, and captained the most recent Ryder Cup team.

Honorable mentions: Tom Lehman, Steve Stricker, Lee Janzen, Rocco Mediate, Dudley Hart.

1990s

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods

Porter Cup appearances: 1 (1994)
Best finish: T8 (1994)
Career highlights: In the conversation with Jack Nicklaus for the best ever, with 79 Tour wins, $110 million in career earnings and 14 majors. His ace of the par-3 12th is an all-time Porter Cup moment. Rain washed out the final round of his only appearance, leaving him three shots behind.

Phil Mickelson
Porter Cup appearances: 2 (1989-90)
Best finish: Won (1990)
Career highlights: A final-round 63 capped by a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole gave Mickelson the win in one of the best Porter Cup finishes ever. From there, he’s built a case as one of the dozen best players of all time, with five majors and 40-plus Tour wins. Always smiling along the way, he’s this generation’s Arnold Palmer.

David Duval
Porter Cup appearances: 3 (1990-92)
Best finish: Won (1991)
Career highlights: Duval erased his one-shot loss to Mickelson in 1990 with a final-round birdie on the par-3 16th to win in 1992. From 1997 to 2001, Duval won 13 times on Tour, including the British Open for his only major. He also knocked Tiger Woods from No. 1 in the world.

Matt Kuchar
Porter Cup appearances: 1 (1997)
Best finish: 2 (1997)
Career highlights: With more than 80 top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, Kuchar’s consistency is his single best trait. Last summer, he represented the U.S. at the Olympics in Rio, coming home with a bronze medal. Ranked 20th in the world, he’s in the conversation for best to have never won a major.

Adam Scott
Porter Cup appearances: 2 (1998-99)
Best finish: T18 (1998)
Career highlights: A 13-time PGA Tour winner, Scott is currently ranked eighth in the world. He’s been as high as No. 1 in the world back in 2014. The 2013 Masters champion, he has 29 wins across the globe. The native Australian possesses one of the prettiest swings in all of golf.

Honorable mentions: Justin Leonard, Mike Weir, Stewart Cink, Tim Clark, Ben Curtis.

2000s

Dustin Johnson

Dustin Johnson
Porter Cup appearances: 2 (2006-07)
Best finish: T9 (2007)
Career highlights: After breaking through for last year's U.S. Open championship, his first major, Johnson has gone on to establish himself as the best golfer in the world. The No. 1 player is the favorite every time he enters a tournament at the moment. Crazy long off the tee, he’s developed a short game to match.

Jason Day

Former Porter Cup Tournament Director Steve Denn with Jason Day.

Porter Cup appearances: 1 (2005)
Best finish: T2 (2009)
Career highlights: A former world No. 1, Day peaked in 2015 with a five-win season on the PGA Tour, including the PGA Championship for his only major. He’s gone through some personal struggles as his mother currently battles cancer, but is still firmly one of the five best players in the world.

Rickie Fowler
Porter Cup appearances: 1 (2007)
Best finish: T26 (2007)
Career highlights: A member of the U.S. Olympic team in Rio last year, Fowler has caught the attention of a younger generation of golf fans for his flashy outfits. He’s got the game to match, too, ranking eighth in the world. He’s chasing his elusive first major championship.

Patrick Reed
Porter Cup appearances: 1 (2009)
Best finish: T49 (2009)
Career highlights: The hero of the U.S. Ryder Cup team’s win last year, Reed is a brash, confident player who famously said he was a “top-five player” in the world back in 2014. He’s not far off, currently ranked 13th, and like Fowler chasing his first major title.

Bill Haas
Porter Cup appearances: 2 (2002-03)
Best finish: T5 (2003)
Career highlights: Haas, whose father, Jay, was also an accomplished Porter Cup player, holds the course record at NFCC with a 60 in 2003. He set the NCAA career scoring average for Wake Forest and has six career PGA Tour wins along with the 2011 FedEx Cup.

Honorable mentions: Hunter Mahan, Brandt Snedeker, Billy Horschel, Webb Simpson, Brian Harman.

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