Three sides of mid-amateurs and a side of highly ranked teenagers all won two matches Tuesday to advance to the semifinals of the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at the Olympic Club’s Lake Course, which has hosted five U.S. Opens.
The victorious veterans were led by 2013 USA Walker Cup Team members Todd White, of Spartanburg, S.C., and four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith, of Pittsburgh, Pa., who did not make a bogey in their two victories.
“I know that Nathan's been through so much USGA-wise, so nothing's going to faze him,” said White, who won the 2015 Azalea Amateur against a field that included many collegiate players. “It's a trust level that you've got that partner there in this event. Like Nathan said yesterday, it's nice to know that you have to go out and you play the beast, and you've got somebody at your back.
White, with 16 past USGA championship appearances and Smith, with 33, defeated a side of brothers – Jason and Todd Higton, of Fresno, Calif., 3 and 2, in the quarterfinals after posting six birdies in a back-and-forth, 2-and-1 decision over Southern Methodist University teammates Austin Smotherman and Bryson DeChambeau in the second round.
Smith, 36, an investment advisor and White, 47, a high school history teacher, will meet a pair of 18-year-olds – Sam Burns, of Shreveport, La., and Austin Connelly, of Irving, Texas, ranked 6th and 10th, respectively in the World Amateur Golf Ranking in one of Wednesday’s semifinal matches.
In the other semifinal pairing, Sherrill Britt, 49, of West End, N.C. and Greg Earnhardt, 46, of Greensboro, N.C., will meet Scott Harvey, 36, of Greensboro, N.C., and Todd Mitchell, 36, of Bloomington, Ill.
“I have no idea,” Smith said when asked how his side would fare against the youngsters. “Yeah, the guys we played this morning from SMU, they're great players. Everybody is a great team. Todd and I seem to be teaming well, so hopefully we'll be able to somehow hang in there with them.”
Burns, who is a three-time Louisiana high school champion and will attend LSU, and Connelly, who captured the Jones Cup in February and will attend Arkansas, defeated golf manufacturing engineers Matthew Simone, of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Cory Bacon, of Cave Creek, Ariz., 2 and 1, in the quarterfinals. Their second-round victory came over Don Walsworth, of Leawood, Kan., and Jon Troutman, of Spring Hill, Kan., 3 and 1.
“I think that's one of the reasons we're doing so well is because we understand each other's games,” said Burns. “Our games are very similar, and we know when an opportunity comes for birdie that the other guy needs to secure the par. So, I think from that mentality, that's why we're doing so well. We understand that it's not about me. It's about us.”
Harvey, the 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur and 2015 South American Amateur champion, and Mitchell, who was the runner-up at the 2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur, got past Zach Atkinson, of Colleyville, Texas, and James Edmondson, of North Richland Hills, Texas, 3 and 2 in the quarterfinals after defeating the Kingston, N.Y., side of Doug Kleeschulte and Jeffrey Schaller, 3 and 2, in the morning.
“I've played with Sherrill and Greg a lot in the same tournaments and just playing around,” Harvey said. “It's pretty funny that we're all the way across the country getting to play together. I think it's pretty cool.
“They're both good players, really good players. It will take some good golf to beat them. But all you can do is just come out and show up. In match play you don't ever want to play anybody that you know just because you don't want to send them home, but you don't want to go home yourself either.”
Britt and Earnhardt defeated Draegen Majors, of Tulsa, Okla. and Brooks Price, of Dallas, Texas, 2 and 1, in the quarterfinals after dispatching Ryan McCarthy, of Rockville, Md., and Patrick McCormick, of Baltimore, Md., 3 and 2, in the second round.
Before meeting Britt and Earnhart, Majors and Price dispatched the No.1-seeded Viraat Badhwar and Maverick McNealy, 1 up.
Majors and Price won three of the final six holes with birdies to defeat Stanford’s Badhwar and McNealy.
On the short-par 4 18th, Price provided the match-sealing shot – a wedge from the left rough to within 18 inches for a conceded birdie.
“I wanted to be aggressive because Draegen was in the middle of the fairway and he had birdied the hole two of the last two times we played it,” Price said. “I felt really comfortable with being aggressive there and giving us a chance.”
“I could tell from the get-go when they were making awesome pars that they were a team to be reckoned with for sure,” said McNealy, the 2015 Pac-12 player of the year. “They played well and closed awesome. They birdied 13, 15, 17 and 18.”
Majors and Price squared the match on the par-3 13th hole with a conceded birdie after Badhwar and McNealy posted a bogey, and then gained a 1-up lead on Price’s five-foot birdie on the par-3 15th. The teams exchanged birdie wins on 16 and 17.
“We felt we were in it the whole way,” said McNealy, who shot 61 in the final round of the Pac-12 championships to win individual honors. “We were never up or down more than one the whole way. I felt like we had birdie opportunities coming in but didn’t convert on 17 and 18.”
The U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship consists of 36 holes of stroke play on the Lake and Ocean Courses of The Olympic Club followed by five rounds of match play played only on the Lake Course.
Semifinal sides, which must remain intact, are exempt from qualifying for the 2016 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Fox Sports 1 will televise Wednesday’s semifinal and championship matches from 4:00-6:30 p.m. PDT (7:00-9:30 EDT).
Pete Kowalski is the USGA’s director of championship communications. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.