Secretariat, step aside. Seattle Slew, make room. Move over, Smarty Jones. The Kentucky Derby is known for its stellar performances on horseback, and Sheridan has seen its fair share of horse-related feats.
However, one of Sheridan’s most popular sporting events, despite its ‘derby’ name, has absolutely nothing to do with horses or racing. The Powder Horn hosted its annual Black Powder Shootout over the weekend, capped off by the ever-popular derby to crown the tournament’s grand champion.
Eighty-four two-man teams took to Sheridan’s private golf club to duke it out for prizes and, more importantly, bragging rights in the three-day event. After a practice round Thursday, the golfers took off for 27 holes Friday and 18 more Saturday — in match-play, best-ball format.
Fourteen of those teams were lucky enough to play more than 18 holes Saturday, though.
You see, as if 45 holes isn’t enough — more if you completed a full 18 warmup Thursday — the Shootout requires the top teams to play even more. Luckily, the format gets a bit of a change.
Unluckily, that change brings a whole lot of chaos and even more sweat-inducing pressure.
The derby tosses all 14 twosomes — the winners of the 14 flights from the tournament — onto the tee box at the same time. And over the course of a half dozen holes, it chews most of them up and spits them out. One by one (or sometimes a few at a time), teams are eliminated based on score. They all play the same hole — alternating shots this time around — and each hole sends a select number of teams packing. Eventually, one team remains.
Tee shots spray from that first tee box. Hopefully you marked your ball.
And as the carts scatter to their second shots — a handful down the middle in the fairway, some in the rough, others in the thick hairy stuff — spectators circle the green in anticipation. These aren’t spectators like a few wives or a marshal or a journalist, although those folks are certainly hunting for a spot with a good view. Seventy teams didn’t make it into the derby, but instead of tossing their clubs in their trunks and heading home, they stick around — some to heckle, some to cheer and most to hopefully earn some money on teams they decided to purchase ahead of the derby.
Lots at stake here, folks.
We’re talking about a gallery like you’d see on tour, except everyone’s in a cart, most have enjoyed their share of beverages and they’re as invested as the guys lining up putts on the green.
So there I sat, squeezed in between a few carts, camera in hand, trying to sift through the conglomerate of players vying for a chance to move on to hole No. 2.
The pressure weighed heavy. Nine teams ended tied on the first hole, forcing a chip-off — three teams would advance, six would go home. And just to pile it all on, the tournament directors had the poor blokes chip from about 30 yards away straight on to a brutal pin location where even the slightest slip up sent your ball rolling nicely off the green, into your golf bag and out of the contest.
That was just the first dang hole.
More shots peppered the fairway. Spectators — myself included — pointed out how they’d approach certain shots or would have played missed opportunities differently than those sorry saps who missed. Mind you, none of these people won their flights to begin with, and some of them — again, myself included — didn’t even have a club in their hands the entire day.
Still, the thrill sucked us in. We all wanted to win, somehow, some way.
Dave Perdue and Justin Johnson did win, edging Dave Loseke and Joe Wright to secure the title of champions.
As I spectated and reported and shot photos, though, I asked the losers what it felt like to stand next to me and watch rather than partake in the derby. Sure, most of them felt they could have won the money, but none of them felt left out.
“This might be my favorite part of the tournament,” said Nick Sweeny, whose team finished runner-up in its flight and just missed the derby.
The derby at the Black Powder Shootout is the NCAA Tournament. Its’ mostly chaos in the early rounds, brackets are busted, Cinderellas drop improbable putts and literally anything can happen.
And as the sun sets over The Powder Horn and the dust settles on another eventful derby, people are already counting down the days until the first tee shot next summer.