MSOP Jacksonville Final a rousing success

It’s astonishing what the backdrop of “competition” can bring about. It is indescribable, this tension, this atmosphere, where everything becomes monumental, or everything takes on epic proportions. That’s exactly what I experienced this weekend at the MSOP – Major Series of Putting Regional Finals in Florida.

First and foremost, being able to host this prestigious event is a blessing. But to encounter such talent and passion in one weekend is what’s most special. People came from all over Florida, and even elsewhere, to secure their spot in the big October dance. Some got a taste of it last year. Some were there. Rainey, Gary, Chris, Jim and a few others told me about Vegas and the MSOP championship with stars in their eyes. That’s what brought them to Florida this weekend.

Stars of the River City Final

Rainey Statum, who the team nicknamed “The Grinder”, came all the way from his native Texas since he couldn’t make the Houston event in mid-June. He will be attending the world mini-putt championship in the Czech Republic … Yeah, that’s all. No stranger to the spotlight, Rainey brought the house down with a perfect roll at the perfect time. One twelve-footer, on the 18th hole, to win in the 4-hole playoff. “The Grinder” has a sense of showmanship. The slender athlete from Houston is a phenomenon. Smiling, with a lot of experience, always a cigarette in his mouth, Rainey is one of the most feared competitors among his peers. You will see him in Vegas. He won’t be going as a tourist. He’s coming to “Sin City” to break the bank.

Another of the weekend favorites: Gary McNeilly. A tall elegant gentleman with perfect and poetic impetus. Straight as a bar despite his older age, the “Ice Man”, as we had fun nicknaming him over the weekend, blew us away more than once. He is calm, composed, very kind and respectful. Possessing Greg Norman’s class and Fred Couples’s elegance, McNeilly impresses with his “silky smooth” style. It seems that no matter the distance, the line or the slope of the terrain, his right iron always operates in the same way: as if he was sinking a 6-inch putt, the easiest in the world. After placing in the top 4 on Saturday, we were happy to see him again on Sunday trying to improve his result.

“Re-buys” spell redemption for many players. Many need 4 or 5 tries to find their footing on the course and achieve a scorecard good enough to compete in the final. But not Ben Hellmuth. Nah. Hellmuth, a family man, married to a golfer, a “good smart guy”, showed up late on Sunday to turn in an opening -7 scorecard in his first round. Easily enough to qualify for the final. Hellmuth failed to make a place for himself in the top 4 leading to Las Vegas, but he still delivered us a great showing.

Married to the game

Stories like these come in spades. Like Matt Cullen from Jacksonville, a former pro golfer who showed up on Saturday, without much success. The hitch is that it was his 18th wedding anniversary weekend. He had obtained the blessing of the missus to compete on Saturday, as long as he kept Sunday free to celebrate their love. But you know how it is: a disappointed golfer is a disappointed golfer. Cullen is married to an extraordinary woman. Why? Seeing that her husband was struggling with his previous day’s performance and sensing his desire to return … she sent him back to the green, so long as he won the tournament. That’s all. Well, 4 hours later, Matt Cullen was on his way back home with a ticket to Las Vegas, the tournament winner with a cumulative score of -15 and the day’s course record with a -9 scorecard. You know, when your wife asks you to do something …

A J-ville experience for the books

In short, this was just a fraction of our perfect weekend in JAX! Back in Quebec for a few days, the MSOP team is preparing for its next destination: Northgate Golf and Country Club, Houston, TX. June 15th and 16th.

You know what they say, “Another day, another dollar! ”

See ya in Houston!

Max Lalonde


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