Five Things to Watch for in Round 1 of Stroke Play May 21, 2016 | Mamaroneck, N.Y. By Joey Flyntz, USGA

Nathan Smith (left) and Todd White hope for a lot more celebrations in defense of their U.S. Amateur Four-Ball title at Winged Foot. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

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The 2nd U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship started at 7:30 a.m. EDT on Saturday at Winged Foot Golf Club, with 128 teams playing 18 holes of stroke play. Each team will play 18 holes on the East Course or West Course on Saturday, followed by 18 holes on the opposite course on Sunday. The low 32 scoring teams will advance to match play, beginning Monday on the East Course.

Here are five things to watch as stroke play begins:

East vs. West

Both the East and West courses at Winged Foot are steeped in USGA championship history and both will present a comprehensive test of golf. The East Course has hosted two U.S. Women’s Opens (1957 and 1972) and the inaugural U.S. Senior Open in 1980. The West Course has hosted five U.S. Opens (1929, 1959, 1974, 1984 and 2006) and the memorable 72nd hole of the 2006 U.S. Open in which Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Colin Montgomerie all struggled to the finish with a chance to win, may be fresh in a lot of players’ minds this week.

It will be worth watching to see if there is a significant scoring disparity between sides playing the East and West courses. It is a similar situation to the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at The Olympic Club. The Lake Course, also a five-time U.S. Open venue, played nearly a stroke and a half harder than the Ocean Course.

While the West Course is the U.S. Open venue, the East Course is known for its difficult greens, striking par 3s and risk/reward par 4s. As stated by Dermod O. Sullivan in the official program of the championship: “A thoughtful friend of mine once observed that if they put the East greens on the West, no one would ever finish.”

Many Happy Returns?

Only 13 of the 128 teams in the field competed together last year at The Olympic Club. Of those 13, however, six advanced to match play, three reached the semifinals and both finalists have returned intact.

The duo of Nathan Smith and Todd White is back to defend their title. Smith, 37, of Pittsburgh, Pa., is a four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and member of the victorious 2009 and 2013 USA Walker Cup Teams. White, 48, of Spartanburg, S.C., was Smith’s 2013 Walker Cup teammate and is competing in his 19th USGA championship.

Smith and White defeated Sherrill Britt, 50, of West End, N.C., and Greg Earnhardt, 47, of Greensboro, N.C., in last year’s championship match, 7 and 5. Britt and Earnhardt are back, as is the formidable pairing of Scott Harvey and Todd Mitchell that Britt and Earnhardt eliminated in 19 holes in last year’s semifinals. Harvey, 37, of Greensboro, N.C., is the 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and 2015 USA Walker Cup Team member. Mitchell, 37, of Bloomington, Ill., finished runner-up in the 2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur and advanced to the Round of 16 in last year’s U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club.

Flying Solo

Although the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball is a team event, an individual can represent the side if a partner cannot play.

That exact scenario is taking place on Saturday, as Jake Goodman, 21, of San Antonio, Texas, teed off by himself at 8:06 a.m. on the East Course because his partner, Cameron Champ, 20, of Sacramento, Calif., could not make it to Winged Foot.

As of Friday evening, the possibility remained for two more individuals to represent their side. Michael Fastert, 36, of Des Plaines, Ill., and Erik Christopherson, 39, of Minneapolis, Minn., were both on-site without their partners.

Starting Off on the Right Foot

With 128 teams competing for 32 spots in match play, the competition is fierce and a slow start can create a quite an uphill climb. For example, only three teams shot over par in the first round last year and advanced to match play, one doing so in an 8-for-3 playoff. Thirteen teams fell one stroke shy of the match-play cut and 20 finished within two strokes of the cut. So, one bad hole can be the difference to playing into next week or not.

Weather Watch

While the forecast calls for comfortable temperatures in the low to mid 60s throughout play on Saturday, rain could become a factor. Based on the current forecast, sides teeing off early in the morning are likely to complete their rounds before the weather potentially turns. With the forecast predicting potential rain between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., sides starting in the late afternoon may have to play the majority of their round in wet conditions or deal with a delay.  

Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at jflyntz@usga.org.

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