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Leopards coach on world stage

September 20, 2005|by TIM KOELBLE

koelble@herald-mail.com

When the sixth annual Presidents Cup begins Thursday at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Prince William County, Va., there will be a twinge of local flavor inside the ropes.

Dan Neff, the Smithsburg High School golf coach, was one of 25 individuals selected from the Middle Atlantic PGA Section to be on hand for the golf extravaganza that features the United States against a formidable International team in match-play competition.

Neff will serve as an assistant to the match referee and as an observer each of the four days.

"I won't know until Wednesday which group I start with the first day ... but this is really a cool thing," said Neff. "They'll have the marshals at the tees and around the greens, but I'll be walking with one particular group the entire round each day."

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Neff said Col. Richard Johns, executive director of the MAPGA, wants the assistants to be "a liaison during the match."

"(Col. Johns) wants a rapport with the assistants between the caddies and the gallery," said Neff. "They want us talking to them, to find out what club the player is using, distances, strategies and so on, and to keep the gallery informed."

In February while attending a PGA rules clinic in Dominion Valley, Va., the attendees were told by Col. Johns a situation would be developing where he would want people from the MAPGA to be involved at the Presidents Cup.

"It was a conversation that turned into filling out an application and going through a process of evaluations," said Neff. "There were about 60 to 70 applicants and I guess I was lucky enough to survive the cut."

The American team will consist of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, David Toms, Chris DiMarco, Jim Furyk, Fred Funk, Stewart Cink, Davis Love III, Scott Verplank, Justin Leonard and Fred Couples. Leonard and Couples were picks of captain Jack Nicklaus.

The International team, those that are not eligible for the Ryder Cup, will consist of Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Adam Scott, Angel Cabrera, Tim Clark, Michael Campbell, Mike Weir, Nick O'Hearn, Mark Hensby, Peter Lonard and Trevor Immelman, the last two being picks of captain Gary Player.

Of the players competing, an obvious hope would be a chance at assisting in Woods' group, but that is not necessarily the top choice of Neff.

"I've always liked Toms ... his demeanor and how he plays the game," said Neff. "From past experiences attending PGA events, I know a lot of these players are personable ... Mickelson loves to talk."

Toms, who suffered a rapid heartbeat condition during Friday's second round of the 84 Lumber Classic, returned to the practice range Sunday and has informed Nicklaus that he is ready to play.

Neff, 54, gained his certificate as a golf teaching professional in July through the United States Golf Teachers Federation, sanctioned by the USGA.

He maintains a slick indoor teaching facility at his home in Boonsboro that keeps him busy when he's not at school, on the golf course with his varsity team, or playing himself.

"As a teacher and a coach, these are the ideal things to do," said Neff. "I love teaching and with the facilities at home, I can do it year round."

However, for four days this week, Neff will be among the big boys.

"No doubt, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said.

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