If they weren’t already nervous about teeing it up on Saturday in the first USGA championship of the year, competitors in the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball prepared under windy and sometimes wet conditions during Friday’s final practice round at Timuquana Country Club. The good news is that none of the competition days are expected to feature weather that is as windy or as wet.
The field of 64 two-player sides will play 18 holes of stroke play on Saturday and Sunday to whittle the field in half, and the first of five match-play rounds will be contested on Monday. The championship is scheduled to conclude with the semifinal and final rounds of match play on Wednesday, May 1.
Here are three things to know heading into the USGA’s “Opening Day” of championship season:
Timuquana is Firm, Fast and Strategic
The host course, which was designed by Donald Ross and opened in 1923, will play to 6,307 yards and a par of 72. The wind, which gusted up to 20 miles per hour on Friday, is expected to drop to 12 mph or less on Saturday and Sunday.
“There are certainly a few holes where we will offer risk-reward options,” said Rachel Sadowski, director of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball for the USGA. “Just making par on every hole is not going to get you into match play, so we have set up some holes where they’re going to have to think about that.”
The tee markers are likely to be moved forward on both the 510-yard, par-5 sixth hole and the 338-yard, par-4 14th at some point to encourage an aggressive approach.
“On No. 6, if they drive it far enough down in the right position, they’re going to be able to go for the green in two,” said Sadowski. “But it’s very much a risk-reward shot, because there’s water along the left side and the green slopes toward the water. A missed shot will likely run down into the water.”
“No. 14 will not necessarily be drivable for the majority of the players, but they’re going to have to think about where they want to hit it off the tee – and if they don’t hit their spot, they need to miss in the right place,” said Sadowski. “That’s actually the theme of the whole golf course. If you miss the green, you’re in trouble. It’s the biggest defense of the course.”
The greens are expected to run about 12½ feet on the Stimpmeter, and that will be just one aspect of the challenge presented by Sadowski and company.
“Because of the firmness and the speed, this course will play differently from a lot of other courses the players see,” said Sadowski. “It’s all about the test this course represents. Can they adjust their games to be ready for this setup?”
Developing a Four-Ball Mentality
Along with the challenge of Timuquana, some of the 64 sides will be adapting to a competitive format that is not common for them.
“Even though they played together in the qualifier, they may not know each other’s games that well,” Sadowski said. “You’ve got to be able to trust your partner. A lot of times with inexperienced players, they’re just playing their own ball and hoping that one of them makes a good score.”
Sometimes, having the two rounds of stroke play under their belts will encourage players to shake up their approach.
“We’ve noticed the first few years of this championship, once they get into match play, they’re more likely to talk a bit more, to go for things and use more strategy,” said Sadowski. “I think if they took the match-play mentality right from the get-go, they would get better results.”
Among those who have plenty of experience with the format is Dawn Woodard, of Greenville, S.C., who has partnered with Meghan Stasi for all five U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Balls to date, qualifying for match play each previous time and reaching the quarterfinals of the inaugural championship in 2015 at Bandon Dunes.
“We trust each other, obviously, but we also know that we’re both going to screw up,” said Woodard. “It’s inevitable. Never in all of this have we ever been mad. The important thing in stroke play is to not take a ball out of play by taking a chance.”
Woodard laughed about a moment during Friday’s practice round.
“I hit a shot from out of the woods, and after I hit, I told Meghan, ‘That’s not a shot I would hit this weekend, partner,’” Woodard said. “And she knew I would not have.”
Stroke play, in Woodard’s mind, is about maximizing opportunities.
“Don’t put the pressure on; play solid golf the first two days,” said Woodard, a three-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur medalist. “In match play, we follow the same mindset for the most part, but there will always be a few holes in match play where the reward may outweigh the risk. If it doesn’t work, it’s only going to cost you a hole.”
With an average age of 20.3 years, some of the younger players in the field are bound to learn hard lessons this weekend.
“When you’re young, you don’t see as many things that could go wrong,” said Woodard, who has three daughters. “And when things do go wrong, you say, ‘What were you thinking?’ I didn’t think when I was 15, either. You’ve got a little more of an invincible mindset.”
First USGA Championship Under New Rules
Sadowski is conducting the first USGA championship under the Rules introduced on Jan. 1, and that has played into the preparations.
“This isn’t necessarily their first event of the year, because a lot of players have been competing in high school and college events,” said Sadowski. “But this might be the first event that they’ve played in with caddies. And let’s face it, a lot of Rules can come up where caddies are involved.”
One aspect of the four-ball partnership that is important to note is that most penalties apply only to the individual player, not to the side. Education is part of the USGA strategy, including the volunteer Rules officials.
“We’ve done a lot of preparation, sending Rules information to the caddies ahead of time, for example,” said Sadowski. “We’re also going to have a walking referee with every group, so the players can ask questions if they want. We’re also going to talk to them on the first tee, to let them know we’re there to try and help prevent any Rules issues.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.