Four-Ball Champions Share Match-Play Tips
May 12, 2016 | FAR HILLS, N.J.
By David Chmiel, USGA
Four-ball is the team game that most golfer’s play. There isn’t as much pressure; if you have the right partner, you can “ham and egg” it around the course and earn a victory over your opponents. The USGA recognized the significance of the four-ball format with the creation of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball and U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball championships, which were inaugurated last year at The Olympic Club and Bandon Dunes, respectively. The championships attracted diverse fields and rave reviews from competitors and spectators alike.
The reigning champions – USGA stalwarts Nathan Smith and Todd White, and teenagers Rinko Mitsunaga and Mika Liu – forged bonds through their USGA experiences. They partnered to earn the chance to be the first names etched on the trophies for their respective championships.
With a few days until the 2016 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball and U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball tee off, the champions shared a few secrets to their success that could help you the next time you and your friends gather for a four-ball match of your own:
LESSON: PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS
TODD WHITE, the 48-year-old high-school history teacher from Spartanburg, S.C., was a semifinalist in the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur. He and Smith formed a bond as members of the 2013 USA Walker Cup Team – between them, they have played in more than 50 USGA championships. White said that the experiences they shared gave him a great deal of confidence.
“We have played together many times before and have the same approach: We are laid back, but we don’t like to lose. We felt that we might be able to do well in the Four-Ball,” he said. “We have plenty of experience and I knew that if I could play smart golf from tee to green, Nathan could make things happen around the green. His short game is just so good; I knew that we would never really be out of any hole.”
LESSON: DON’T OVERTHINK IT
NATHAN SMITH, the 37-year-old investment advisor from Pittsburgh, Pa., is a four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion (2003, 2009, 2010, 2012) and member of three USA Walker Cup Teams (2009, 2011, 2013). He believes it is vital for experienced partners to make the game simple.
“When you have the right partner, it doesn’t have to be too planned out,” he said. “In stroke play, we bogeyed three of the first five holes. We didn’t freak out and change everything, we just settled in. We don’t have to say ‘sorry’ after missing a putt. We just play for each other and know when to go 55 mph and when to step on the gas. It also helps to get a little lucky every once in a while to believe that you can get on a roll. Who would believe that we would beat Bryson DeChambeau and Austin Smotherman (in the second round)? We started to feel like it just might be our week, so we stuck with that feeling.”
LESSON: ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE
“We never talked about being the first champions or anything,” White said. “We just like to compete, so why not try to win it? I never thought about what it would mean until it happened.”
Smith agreed, even allowing for the moment to sink in. “A year later, it still is pretty surreal,” he said. “For two older guys to pull it off, it is special to say that we were the first. Now, getting ready for Winged Foot is even more exciting.”
LESSON: STICK WITH A PLAN
RINKO MITSUNAGA, the 19-year-old native of Roswell, Ga., who now is a member of the University of Georgia women’s golf team, said that she and her playing partner, 17-year-old MIKA LIU, of Beverly Hills, Calif., had a few rules that they always followed.
“I am especially confident in my ability to keep the driver in the fairway, so I always hit the tee shot first,” said Mitsunaga. “It became our routine and we stuck with it until the end. Personally, I made sure that the first few holes I wouldn't do worse than a par so the opponent couldn't get a head start on us. Together, when Mika or I had a birdie putt, we always made sure the other person finished out with a par first.”
LESSON: KEEP IT LIGHT
“I've known Mika forever from junior golf,” Mitsunaga said. “We also went to the same high school (IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.), so we were good friends. After the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur, we decided, ‘Why not give it a try?’ Mika and I were very talkative on the course. We never really talked about golf, just tried to have fun. We were extremely supportive with each other. We had good energy within our group, which I think was very important.”
LESSON: SAVOR THE MOMENT
Mitsunaga said she and Liu focused on the present, a philosophy that helped them deal with a bad break prior to the 2016 U.S. Women’s Four-Ball.
“We are disappointed that we couldn’t [defend our title] because it falls on the same time as NCAA Nationals,” said Mitsunaga. “Mika could still play, but since I'm a freshman at the University of Georgia already, I was not able to play.”
David Chmiel is manager of members content for the USGA. Contact him at email@example.com.