DECATUR - Matt Miller and his Bloomington-Normal teammates were only 60 miles from home Saturday. It was difficult to tell.
"It would be nice to see some friendly faces from Bloomington. We feel like the European team in America (during the Ryder Cup)," said Miller.
The Decatur fans came out in force to root on their team in the first day of the inaugural Lee Enterprises Signature Cup at Red Tail Run Golf Club. Yet that also provided inspiration for Team Bloomington-Normal.
Bloomington-Normal relied on its strong amateur men to take a 3-2 lead in the opening four-ball competition before thunder, lightning and rain came - and never left. Elston Mitchell and Mike Cushing were tied with Decatur's Lon Lutgen and David White on No. 18 tee when play was suspended and will resume at 8 a.m. today.
"Going into it I thought it would be a tournament-type competition, but this was a lot more heated," said Miller. "It kind of brought out the best in a lot of people's games. It's pretty good golf."
The alternate shot competition was postponed until 8:30 this morning, while the 12 singles matches will begin about 1:30 p.m. It will take 12½ points to claim the title.
Bloomington-Normal captain Frank Niepagen called the Decatur galleries "fantastic" and asked for a little help today.
"It really would be nice if the golf fans from Bloomington could come down so when we hit a good shot or make a putt, someone would applaud," said Niepagen. "The only applause we hear is if Decatur does something good. It's a compliment to their following. They are really supporting this event."
Bloomington-Normal's Todd Mitchell played stellar in leading he and partner Jeff Niepagen to a 4 and 3 victory over Rod Maxwell and Kraig Rogers. Mitchell and Niepagen were 7-under-par for 15 holes.
Mitchell said he wasn't sure what to expect from the event. He didn't have a problem getting into the competitive spirit, especially after losing the first two holes.
"We were on 13 green, and we actually heard a roar. It was very unique," said the two-time Illinois State Amateur champion. "Matt Miller told me there were people cheering, and it kind of fired him up."
The Miller brothers - Matt and Drew - were in the lead throughout en route to a 2 and 1 victory over Tommy Bliefnick and Greg Davis. The other Bloomington-Normal victory might have been the match of the day.
Tom Kearfott and Jordan Carpenter were 1-down going to the 231-yard par-3 17th against Larry Osborne and Nick Chadwick. Kearfott, who experienced a putting meltdown earlier on the back nine, came through at the end.
After hitting a delicate bunker shot with his feet out of the sand at No. 17, Kearfott sank a 15-footer for par to win the hole and even the match. After Osborne, Chadwick and Carpenter missed birdie putts on the par-5 18th, Kearfott rolled in his 5-footer for the win.
"The ups and downs in this thing were phenomenal," said Kearfott.
Kearfott 3-putted from 15 feet on No. 13 to give Decatur a halve and then watched in horror as Davis chipped in for par on the 15th and he 3-putted from 20 feet for bogey. Kearfott hit his tee shot out of bounds on No. 16, but Carpenter made a crucial par for a halve.
"I de-celled on the first (3-putt), and the second one I toe hooked it. It was unbelievable," said Kearfott. "Then it carried over mentally for a hole or two."
Decatur received outstanding play from its women and professionals to gain its two victories. Hilary Anderson and Kallie Harrison made seven birdies to beat Stacey Miller and Donna Peterson, 3 and 2, while Kurt Rogers was 6-under on his own ball in propelling himself and Rick Anderson to a 4 and 3 win over Harland Kilborn and Craig Onsrud.
"They played well and were on a roll. There's not much you can do about it, just keep playing your own game and see what happens," said Stacey Miller. "But it was a lot of fun. Alternate shot will be a lot of fun."
Frank Niepagen was "very pleased" with how the first round transpired for his side.
"The worst we can come of it is even, and we could come out with a 4-2 edge (if Cushing and Elston Mitchell win)," said Frank Niepagen. "Early in the round all four amateur men's teams were behind. For them to all come back, I'm thrilled to death.
"The Decatur pros and the Decatur ladies were fantastic. Not that our ladies and pros played poorly, but they got beat by two teams that played good golf. I'm still confident we can pick up points in those areas, too."
Elston Mitchell and Cushing went back and forth with Lutgen and White the entire round. Cushing's chip-in birdie on No. 15 evened the match, but the Bloomington-Normal pair both bogeyed the 16th to fall 1-down. Cushing got that back by sinking a 4-foot par putt to win No. 17 before the inclement weather rolled in.
"We've still got a point up in the air. Depending on what happens there, that's about what we had expected," said Decatur captain Richie Hammel. "We know the amateurs from Bloomington are awesome players, and they pair up well."
Todd Mitchell said those willing to take the drive from the Twin Cities south on U.S. 51 today will find out what lies ahead when the teams meet again in 2008 at The Den at Fox Creek Golf Course in Bloomington.
"Next year we have to compete not only with Decatur's team, but the city of Decatur in how well they've supported this," he said. "We have big shoes to fill. It seems as though most of the clapping is when Decatur hits a good shot and not necessarily when we do. The fans are appreciative of their golfers."
8:30 a.m. …Mike Cushing-Elston Mitchell…Brad Scherer-Mark Van Rheeden
8:40 a.m….Jordan Carpenter-Tom Kearfott…Larry Osborne-Kraig Rogers
8:50 a.m. …Stacey Miller-Donna Peterson…Hilary Anderson-Kallie Harrison
9:00 a.m….Harland Kilborn-Craig Onsrud…Rick Anderson-Kurt Rogers
9:10 a.m. …Todd Mitchell-Jeff Niepagen…Tommy Bliefnick-Nick Chadwick
9:20 a.m. …Drew Miller-Matt Miller…Rod Maxwell-Dave White
NOTE: Singles play will begin about 1:30 p.m.
DIRECTIONS TO RED TAIL RUN: Take U.S. 51 South all the way through Decatur. Go across Lake Decatur, turn left on Grove Road and proceed to the course.