DECATUR - Frank Niepagen knows the inaugural Lee Enterprises Signature Cup won't be won today. However, the Bloomington-Normal captain figures his team can put itself in good shape against Decatur in the first day of the Ryder Cup-style competition at Red Tail Run Golf Club going into Sunday's singles matches.
"I would be thrilled to get seven points (today). I would be thrilled," said Niepagen after Friday's banquet which announced the pairings. "They are very strong not only with the amateur (men), but the ladies are great and we know about (pro) Kurtis Rogers."
Niepagen and Decatur captain Richie Hammel exchanged their lineups for this morning's six four ball (best-ball) matches during the banquet.
There will be six alternate shot matches this afternoon. The event concludes at 11 a.m. Sunday with 12 singles matches.
Teams get one point for a win and a half-point for a tie. In the event of a 12-all tie at the end of singles, each captain will have put a player's name in a sealed envelope for a sudden-death playoff to determine the champion.
Many of the Bloomington-Normal team members got their first taste of Red Tail Run during a practice round earlier Friday. That gave Niepagen and his assistant captain, Elston Mitchell, a chance to tinker with their lineup even more.
"It was many hours of discussion and trying to figure out who are the most compatible together," said Niepagen. "We will make some changes between the best ball and alternate shot to try to get a shorter hitter with a longer hitter and vice versa.
"The No. 1 thing was to make sure the players are compatible and their games are compatible."
Niepagen put the Miller brothers, Matt and Drew, together this morning. They will play their teammate at Illinois State and Drew's college roommate, Tommy Bliefnick, and Greg Davis.
However, Niepagen said he will probably split up the Millers for the alternate shot. In fact, Niepagen said he will keep an open mind about the alternate shot partners based on the morning play and also on how the Decatur team plays.
During the morning round, Niepagen said he will try to watch each group at the par-3s to tell their teammates what clubs they hit.
Leading the Bloomington-Normal squad will be two-time Illinois State Amateur champion Todd Mitchell and Matt Miller, who was Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year this spring for ISU. Both played in last year's U.S. Amateur, with Mitchell winning his first-round match.
Bloomington-Normal players seem to have more experience on the state and national level than Decatur. However, Decatur will enjoy the home-course advantage.
"I feel it should be a good match," said Matt Miller. "Just because we have a solid team on paper doesn't mean it's going to be a cakewalk. We have to come out, be assertive and play well, and we'll see what happens."
Bliefnick and a couple others on the Decatur side have extensively played Red Tail Run since it opened last year. Bliefnick also works at the course in the summer, while Kurtis Rogers is Red Tail Run's pro and holds the course record of 4-under-par 68.
Todd Mitchell isn't worried about the home-course edge for Decatur.
"It can't be that much of an advantage because the course is not that old. It's not like they've played it the last 10 years and know every bump and carom," said Mitchell. "Obviously, knowing the course is somewhat of an advantage, but I hear it's very straightforward."
While best ball is commonly played by golfers, an alternate-shot format rarely is used.
Matt Miller believes the Europeans generally outplay the U.S. in alternate shot during the Ryder Cup because they're closer and don't apologize to each other for poor shots like the Americans do.
"Alternate shot is fun. Consistency is the key," said Todd Mitchell. "If you talk to the guys who play Ryder Cup or whatever, there's probably more pressure in alternate shot than anything else because the last thing you want to do is hang your partner out to dry time and time again."
Here are the pairings and tee-times for today's Lee Enterprises Signature Cup four-ball competition at Red Tail Run in Decatur. The Bloomington-Normal teams are named first, followed by the Decatur teams.
8:00 a.m. - Tom Kearfott-Jordan Carpenter vs. Larry Osborne-Nick Chadwick
8:10 a.m. - Matt Miller-Drew Miller vs. Tommy Bliefnick-Greg Davis
8:20 a.m. - Todd Mitchell-Jeff Niepagen vs. Rod Maxwell-Kraig Rogers
8:30 a.m. - Elston Mitchell-Mike Cushing vs. Lon Lugten-David White
8:40 a.m. - Stacey Miller-Donna Peterson vs. Hilary Anderson-Kallie Harrison
8:50 a.m. - Harland Kilborn-Craig Onsrud vs. Rick Anderson-Kurt Rogers
NOTE: Pairings for the alternate shot beginning at 1:15 p.m. will be made after the four ball.