As we embark on 2010, it’s worth looking back at the 2009 Circle of Friends Championship. The 5th annual event was the best ever. In all, 36 brothers showed up September 11-13 at Ruffled Feathers Golf Club in Lemont, IL outside Chicago. They came from Wisconsin, Texas, California and New York, not to mention every corner of the Chicago area! The three days featured one day of team competition, plus two days of individual combat in three flights (the A flight for strong players, B flight for up-and-comers and C flight for recreational golfers). Simply said, the event has never been better. The weather was perfect, the fellowship fantastic and the competition fierce.This tournament is so good it has a strange effect on guys. We all eagerly anticipate it, enjoy every minute, but if we don’t perform our egos are bruised big time. Consider the competition’s end … brothers have never bolted so fast. Think Road Runner. Legs whirling. Zero to sixty in a cloud of dust. Beep, beep! Humbled dudes left Ruffled Feathers with their tail between their legs after the 2009 Circle of Friends Championship. For example, after boldly declaring he would steamroll the field, smooth Darrell James (the Houston Hammer) played the A Flight Sunday like he had a flat tire, shooting 100 and then burning rubber out of the clubhouse before the awards ceremony had gotten under way. In the B flight, smack-champ Reggie Ware, who had been predicting for months that the trophy was his, also laid an egg with a100 on Sunday. He too turned into a banana and split after the round. In the face of final-round pressure, more golfers than not wilted like lettuce under the autumn sun. Let it be known that, once again, Ruffled Feathers turned single-digit handicappers into fussing, fretting average Joes and mid cappers into triple-digit duffers.

Despite the frustration and embarrassment, the fun was off the chain! We kicked off play Friday, September 11 under brilliantly sunny skies with a team competition supporting the Teen Living Programs charity. Sixteen Circle of Friends players joined the outing, generating about $4,000 for TLP, a non-profit serving Chicago’s homeless urban kids. It was a great time and great practice for the individual tourney over the weekend. But at the same time, it was no contest. Team Dexter (Orlando Ashford, Tommy Blanchard, Pete Long and Billy Dexter) posted a sizzling 13-under par 59…that’s right, a 59… to walk away with first place. Hmmm. Will someone double-check that scorecard, please?

Few Circle events have been stoked with as much pre-tourney smack-talkin’ as this year’s COF Championship. The venom flew from every direction: From Canty to Capers to James, Ware, Carter, Ashford and Blanchard. But after it’s all said, your clubs have to do the talking.

A handful of guys showed they have the right stuff. The C Flight was owned by Pete Long. Like T.I. says, on that day Pete, you could have “whatever you like…” Consider day one. Pete lofted his ball high and soft, right into the cup for the Circle’s first-ever hole-in-one in competition…on the signature No. 11, the dreaded par-3 island green, no less! Flat out AMAZING! Never mind that Pete stumbled to a 104 that first day. He rebounded with an impressive, pressure-defying 93 on Sunday to record a 197 two-day total and walk away with the C-Flight title. Ronnie Payne shot 221 over two days to claim second and hold off a consistent Rob Simpson (224) and the big-hitting, vastly improved Will Lucas (226).

The B-Flight could claim no hole-in-ones. Still, the battle was tough…sort of. Others might have thought they had a chance, but quietly, Larry (I’ll call him “Stealth”) Kirkwood iced everybody out of the competition. Kirkwood posted an A-Flight worthy 93/91 for a 184 total and breezed to the first-place trophy. Reggie Ware thought he was sitting pretty after a solid 92 on Saturday that put him in the lead, one shot in front of Kirkwood. But champions are made on Sunday. And the Black Doctor played like he was illin’ Sunday. He struggled to a 100 and got stomped by Kirkwood, as well as Mike Holmes (100/90) who nabbed second by a tee’s length over John Russell (100/91), who settled for third. Word has it that coming down the 18th fairway, guys were calling 911. The Doctor was down and out! Circle Commissioner Billy Dexter, had hoped to surprise people with good enough play to earn some hardware. While he showed flashes of solid golf, he couldn’t find the groove.

Before the tourney began, most of the A-Flight players were ready to give the top prize to Tommy “Long Ball” Blanchard, who was returning to competition after a couple of years off. The near-scratch Blanchard had waxed the field the last time he played. But this time around would be different…thanks to Wallace “Little Big Man” Harris. After admirably insisting that Blanchard should NOT give any strokes to the field, Harris went out and nearly knocked off T.B. Blanchard took the early lead with an 81 to Harris’s 86 on Saturday. But neither player felt they had performed their best. The duel on Sunday was as tight as a PGA Tour match. Harris was on his game scoring every bit as well as Blanchard through the turn, as Blanchard carded some uncharacteristic bogeys. But Blanchard’s sweet stroke didn’t betray him down the stretch and Harris couldn’t muster up the birdies he needed to reel in the big fella. Blanchard shot 80 to Harris’s 82, and “Long Ball” snagged victory again. Meanwhile, Roc-It Crockett was quietly trying to claim some hardware of his own. After an underwhelming 92 on Saturday, his obsession with technical swing changes began paying off on Sunday, when he posted an 87 that should have been better if not for a yipped short putt on 17 and a chunked chip on 18. That was just enough to allow newcomer Kermit Crawford to sneak past Crockett for third place. Crawford shot a nearly flawless 83 on Sunday to declare himself a force for next year.

So, who claimed the most coveted prize of all, The Circle of Friends Cup? If you hadn’t heard, the winner of the season-long points race, racked up over a year’s worth of COF tourneys, came down to a tie between Wallace Harris and Larry Kirkwood. It’s worth noting that if either of these guys had participated in any of the other COF Series events (like the Phoenix Open or DR Invitational) they might have won the trophy. The commission first considered holding an 18-hole tiebreaker. But when it proved impossible to get these two fair-weather golfers on the course during the chilly waning days of the season, we decided the following: Since Wallace Harris already had the Cup by virtue of his “Series” victory the previous season, the only way a challenger could wrest away the Cup was by winning it outright…not in a tie. That would be like a boxer taking the title away from the champ in a split-decision. Nope, gotta earn it with an undisputed victory. So, after much consideration, congratulate Wallace Harris, winner and still Circle of Friends Cup champion.

As for the individual awards … give it up for the following prize winners:

  • Long Drive: Will Lucas, Thomas Harvey
  • Closest to the Pin: Pete Long, Steve Canty
  • Longest Putt: Ron Pullie, Leon Capers
  • Best Dressed: Isaac “Cold as Ice” Carter

And a special note of appreciation to Gary Sutton for his spirit and support of the Circle during what was an emotional weekend for him. Not only did he solicit the support of his firm Deloitte as a sponsor, he made tasteful and creative sponsorship signs and stuck with his friends during a trying time.

Last, but far from least, the Circle recognizes one of its shining stars: Tracy Jackson. We lost Tracy in the days preceding the Circle Championship. But we felt his spirit throughout the weekend and we feel it still. Our thoughts remain with him and our prayers remain with his family. We will never forget you Tracy!

Until Next Year!
Roger “Roc-It” Crockett, Co-Commissioner