I regret to announce that I must turn down an invitation to play in this week's prestigious Ryder Cup in Chaska, Minn.
See, I'm busy I covering That Other Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National for Sports Illustrated and GOLF.com that weekend.
Sorry for the confusion. I was invited to play just up the street at the Chaska Town Course, a delightful public track in what I'll rename the Pokorney Ryder Cup because my cousin, Dave Pokorney, a retired Chaska city administrator, sent me the official invite. It was a nice touch on Dave's part to spell my name "Van Sycle" on the invitation, giving this event the kind of authenticity and swagger it deserves.
The Pokorney Ryder Cup features two mighty squads, Team Pokorney versus The World. The matches will be contested over a grueling nine holes Saturday and Sunday. It will be a marathon of golf, beer and brats, much like That Other Ryder Cup.
The Pokorney Ryder Cup and That Other Ryder Cup are nearly identical. They both have pageantry and an Opening Ceremony, and are staged on golf courses with flagsticks. After that, they are different animals.
The PRC (Pokorney Ryder Cup) version, for instance, will be well stocked with pickles and chips. "Yeah, Diane will bring the pickles and chips," Dave said of his younger sister, Diane, also my cousin. "That's all she does. She's always in charge of pickles and chips."
The official PRC schedule allows for several hours of Other Ryder Cup watching Saturday afternoon at Dave's home in Chaska—pickles, chips and snacks but bring-your-own beverage, contestants—and bocce ball in the backyard. Then the DVR will be set to record as the teams trudge over to the Chaska Town Course for the first nine-hole grudge matches. The first tee time at 4:30 will be preceded by 94-year-old Mae Pokorney, Dave and Diane's mom and my aunt, hitting some kind of ceremonial first shot or even a first putt.
"Well, we're trying to get my Mom to hit the first ball and take a picture," Dave said. "She's definitely coming out to watch."
There will be no anthems and no speeches. In fact, Dave said, they're lucky to have golf. "All the courses around here are sold out, you can't get tee times," Dave said. "This didn't happen when the PGA Championship was here. There are so many more out-of-town visitors, a lot of tour groups, and I guess they all want to play golf. The pro at Hazeltine told me 80 percent of PGA Championship tickets were mailed to people with Minnesota zip codes. Only 17 percent of Ryder Cup tickets went to Minnesotans."
Saturday's PRC format is better-ball without handicaps for nine holes. Sunday's format is better-ball with handicaps for nine holes.
What's behind this Pokorney Ryder Cup? I mean, besides most of my cousins? It's a tradition reborn. "My dad used to play with a group of maybe 30 guys, and they had a once-a-year event called The Siegel," Dave said. "On the way over to the course, they'd decide who was going to win that year. Four or five years ago, we started it back up. We get a group, go play somewhere and get crazy. Well, we never got around to it this year so we decided, let's just play a Ryder Cup."
The lineup includes Mark Pokorney, one of Dave's younger brothers; Sam Pokorney, Mark's son; one of Mark's daughters; and one of Dave's daughters. It's an all-Pokorney squad. The World Team features assorted Pokorney friends and a pair of future in-laws. Mark has two children with weddings planned this year. "But their future spouses aren't Pokorneys yet," Dave said, "so they can't play for us."
Joan, Dave's sister, would tee it up for Team Pokorney—and she's a stick—but is sidelined by injury. She will be on hand, possibly as a rules enforcer.
She'll probably slap you with two, I told Dave.
"She might," Dave said.
I don't mean two strokes, I said, I mean she'll probably just slap you two times. He laughed. Women competitors will play from the ladies tees. Anyone over 65 can play from the senior tees. "That rule is for me," Dave said.
The Pokorney Ryder Cup has global reach. One competitor is coming from Omaha, another from Kansas City. Dave sent an invitation to Jim Pokorney, his other younger brother, in South Africa, not Jim's normal residence in Northfield, Minn., south of Minneapolis. South Africa?
"Jim and his wife decided they needed to do something different so they moved to South Africa for a year and rented out their house," Dave said. "He's got a consulting gig with the University of Georgia and he can do that from anywhere. He texted me that he had to decline the invitation."
While that could be seen as a slap in the face on the order of Rory McIlroy missing the British Open, it shows that the Pokorney Ryder Cup is so big that people from across the entire globe are choosing not to play in it.
"I hadn't thought of it that way," Dave said.
The scouting report has it as a toss-up. According to the Official Pokorney World Rankings (OPWR), the best player in the field is Mark, a dentist who finds time to play a lot of golf and practice, which borders on being considered cheating in this event. The second-ranked player is Sam. "He's gotten pretty good this summer," Dave said. "He and my son-in-law can hit it over 300 yards but my son-in-law has a tough time keeping it on the course."
No. 3 in the world rankings is Pam Pokorney, Dave's wife. "She's also in charge of cooking for Sunday night, so she got a better ranking because of that," he said. "That also makes her the most important person in the tournament."
Who's the worst player in the field? It could be the World Team's Mike Fay. Asked to assess his game, Dave said, "Well, he's from Hibbing."
Say no more. The Pokorneys, with Chuck and Mae at the helm of two daughters and three sons, hail from Hibbing and eventually migrated to the Minneapolis area. Hibbing, located in the state's northeast corner, is the north end of The North. Once one of the world's busiest copper pit-mining operations, Hibbing now claims a unique attraction as home of the World's Largest Man-Made Hole. I've seen it and can attest, it's one big dang hole.
"The golf season is only about a month long in Hibbing," Dave said, "so Mike's game is erratic, to say the least. He's a pretty good bocce player, though, and he's bringing a bottle of scotch, so that's why he's invited."
Fay was also appointed captain of the World Team. "That's the scotch talking," Dave said. The most interesting match, Dave believes, will be Ellen Pokorney (Mark's daughter) playing against fiancee Jarrod Recker, who will marry her the following weekend. "Ellen has guaranteed us a win," said Dave, Team Pokorney's captain. "I'm confident she has that match under control."
After Saturday's round, there will be a craft beer festival and fireworks at a park next to a nearby curling rink. Wait, I told Dave, surely you're not so cheap that you're piggy-backing your Pokorney Ryder Cup entertainment on the back of a craft beer festival that happens to be occurring in Chaska?
"Oh no, I'm pretty sure they ordered the fireworks just for us and most of the people coming to the festival, I assume, are coming to find out how the matches went," he said. "They could've just called us but they're having a party. It's a nice park. They're having a band and everything." What's the name of the band, I asked. "The Dweebs," Dave said, barely able to get it out in a spasm of laughter. "The Dweebs. They're a 50s rocks band."
Sunday's schedule features an optional church service in the morning. "Some of us will be there," Dave assured me. Some of us? You know your mom is going to read this, right? You'd better be there.
In the afternoon, there will be more watching and recording of the Other Ryder Cup. Then Team Pokorney and the World will tee it up at 4:30 for the final time. The winning team will be served steaks for dinner. The losing team gets brats. "I think they're left over from last year's family reunion," Dave said. "We froze ‘em."
I was there, I downed one of those brats. They were delicious… 12 months ago. The winning team will also accept the trophy. "It's really nice, a wooden cup-like thing," Dave said.
Ah, a "wooden cup-like thing" sounds like the stuff of dreams. Even if it happens to be recycled, say, and maybe still has "Siegel" scratched on its side in big letters.
I asked if the cup has a name. "Not yet," Dave said. "We'll have to think of one." I suggest the Pickles And Chips Cup.
"That's not bad," Dave said. "Then I could make Diane bring it."