Cliff Koroll, a former star at right wing for the Blackhawks and president of the Blackhawk Alumni Association, has been a member at Medinah Country Club since 1976. Last week, he was a volunteer for the Ryder Cup, which took place there, and described his “once in a lifetime experience” to chicagoblackhawks.com.
As a volunteer, what exactly did you do?
I was a standard-bearer. That means I carried a sign for a match with the players involved from the United States and Europe with the current score. The job is to hold it so fans on either side of the fairway can see it as you walk along with the group. Or, more accurately, behind the group. You just try to stay out of the way of the competition.
You don’t actually keep score, do you?
No, there was an official scorer with each group. But I know something about golf, so I could figure out who won each hole. When each hole is complete, you put up the information if anything changes. The U.S. is 2 up, or the match is all square.
Were you given any other instructions?
Besides making sure that the scores on the board are accurate, you try to be as invisible as possible. As you near the green, you look for the exit toward the next tee. When play is completed, you head there with the group, make sure people can see your sign and just keep up while keeping quiet.
With which group did you work?
I did a practice round Wednesday with the U.S. players. Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, Jim Furyk and Jason Dufner. I just carried a sign with their names, and they only played the back nine. But on Saturday afternoon, I had the fourball match—where each player plays his own ball, instead of alternate shot—between Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy of Europe against Dufner and Zach Johnson of the United States. It was amazing.
That was a huge match. The Europeans, who were down 10-4 at one point, claim that game turned the momentum their way when they won it to make it 10-6 heading into Sunday’s singles.
Poulter made five straight birdies coming in to take that point. And it did turn out to be crucial to the outcome. He sank some unbelievable putts. I’ve had my share of nervous moments as a player in the National Hockey League, but I can’t imagine what the pressure is like. Trying to make a 10-footer with 40,000 people on the course, dead quiet, not to mention millions and millions of people watching on TV in the United States and Europe. It’s really incredible. To be inside the ropes, right near those guys, watching their facial expressions. That’s what I remember vividly. You could see the tension on their faces. Poulter loves the Ryder Cup, and you could see it. His eyes were so big, it was like they were going to pop out of his head.
Were you nervous?
Absolutely. And Sunday, when I just watched from the course with my family and friends, my stomach was still in knots.
Did anybody recognize you?
Yeah, I heard a bunch of people yelling my name or ‘Go Blackhawks.’ There were a lot of Blackhawk jerseys out there too. After a while, with friends and members and fans yelling my name, Jason Dufner’s trainer pulled me aside. He was walking along with the group and he asked me, ‘Who are you? You’re as famous as these golfers.’ I told him I used to play hockey in Chicago with the Blackhawks.
Like a lot of hockey players, you are a good golfer. Did you learn anything from the world’s best players?
My best score on the No. 3 course at Medinah is 74. I’m an 8 handicap. But there is no comparison. The difference is like playing in the NHL and the Eastern League. Those guys are so good, it’s not even close. Golfers as a whole are better athletes than they used to be. But they are so flexible and the club-head speed is so amazing. Rory McIlroy is not a big guy. He’s just a kid, 23, but he hits his drives so long. I mean, he was sometimes 50 yards past the other guys in that group. Those guys are athletes. You hear some people way that golf isn’t a sport and that golfers aren’t really athletes, but that’s not true. No way.
There were thousands of volunteers at Medinah—members and non-members doing all sorts of chores for long hours. A thankless task?
Absolutely not. We all wore volunteer uniforms, and we all paid for them. They feed you and allow you to come out and watch the golf if you want when you aren’t working, but it was a once in a lifetime experience for me. I had one of the best jobs of all, being able to get so close to the action.
What will you take away from the Ryder Cup week?
Despite the outcome, it was tremendous. Europe’s comeback was historic, and the atmosphere was unbelievable. It was a great week for Medinah and a great week for Chicago. We showed the whole world that we can have good weather, and the fan support was off the charts. Being around the Blackhawks as long as I have, I know what a great sports city this is. Hockey fans are terrific. But you saw crowds of 40,000 out there at Medinah even for practice rounds, and they were really into it. Very passionate, yet respectful. I’m proud of the club and the city, and I really gained admiration for the players. We see them on TV and they make it look easy. But when you get inside the ropes and feel that tension, the way they perform is something. I’ve got the three days of competition on tape. I’ve watched some of it already, and I’ll watch it again. Bucket list.