U.S. AMATEUR FOUR-BALL
Philip Pleat’s Ultimate Gift: Qualifying With Son James
December 8, 2016
By David Shefter, USGA
Philip Pleat couldn’t ask for a better belated birthday/pre-Father’s Day gift. What father wouldn’t want to spend Memorial Day weekend at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club playing golf with his son?
But this isn’t any family golf junket to the Sandhills of North Carolina. Philip and his 26-year-old son, James, qualified for the 3rd U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, which will be contested May 27-31 at Pinehurst. The first of two stroke-play rounds starts four days after Philip, the 2011 U.S. Senior Amateur runner-up, turns 61, and 22 days before Father’s Day.
“I’m really excited and so is he,” said Philip.
Philip and James have played in many golf events together over the past two decades. There have been father-son tournaments, club championships at Nashua (N.H.) Country Club, and the New Hampshire State Four-Ball. In 2012, both competed in the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver; Philip was exempt by virtue of his performance in the 2011 Senior Amateur and James, then the captain of the Dartmouth College golf team, qualified.
“The stakes are definitely higher,” said James. “Any time you qualify for a USGA event, it’s special. As an amateur, it is as close as we get to playing in a [PGA] Tour event. It definitely has a different feeling. It’s pretty awesome.”
The Pleats are one of three father-son duos that has earned a spot in the 128-side field, thus far. Californians Dan Corfee, 52, and Ben Corfee, 22, of El Macero, qualified at Serrano Country Club in El Dorado Hills, Calif.. while Mike Riley, 55, of Panama City, Fla., and his son, Michael Riley Jr., 24, of Tampa, qualified at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club in Ocala, Fla.
Only five of the 51 sectional qualifiers have yet to be completed. Nine sides are exempt, including the past two champions: 2015 winners Nathan Smith and Todd White, and defending champions Benjamin Baxter and Andrew Buchanan.
Brothers Matthew and Daniel Wetterich, of Cincinnati, Ohio, shot 66 at Mayfield Sand Ridge Club in Chardon, Ohio, to earn a spot, while former Major League pitcher Erik Hanson, of Kirkland, Wash., and his partner Ben Garrett, of Seattle, Wash., fired a 63 at RMG Club at Oakbrook in Lakewood, Wash., to earn medalist honors. Todd Mitchell, of Bloomington, Ill., the 2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up, qualified for a third consecutive year with Scott Harvey, of Greensboro, N.C., the 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and 2016 runner-up. They were exempt in 2016 after being 2015 semifinalists, but needed to shoot 66 at Mission Hills (Kan.) Country Club to earn their spot in the 2017 championship.
The Pleats needed to advance from a 3-for-1 playoff at Black Hall Country Club in Old Lyme, Conn., to garner the final spot after shooting 3-under 68, a round that included six birdies and three bogeys. Only Philip had previously seen the course, making a 2½-hour drive to play a practice round, so he passed on course knowledge to James.
Philip stuffed his approach on the first playoff hole to set up a birdie, one matched by the tandem of Peter Anderson and John McCarthy.
“My dad is so good under pressure,” said James, who was an All-Ivy League selection his senior year at Dartmouth in 2013. With darkness setting in and the wind picking up, James managed to reach the green of the second playoff hole, a par 5, using a 6-iron for his second shot, hitting his approach from the trees. Despite James’ three-putt par, the 5 was good enough to qualify.
“I didn’t think we would win with a par,” said James, who works for Brown Brothers Harriman, a private bank in Boston. “But we were happy.”
Now they have five months to prepare for the nuances of Pinehurst, especially Course No. 2, with its turtle-back greens and native areas that frame the fairways. Neither member of the side has ever set foot on the course, but they’ve watched previous U.S. Opens – the Donald Ross design was the course for the 1999, 2005 and 2014 U.S. Opens – conducted at the venue.
Philip plans to make a trip south from his home in Nashua to get his game in shape. James’ job might not allow such travel, but he’s hoping for a mild winter to give himself a chance to practice.
“We need to find ways to practice our short game,” said James.
James added that the partnership works well because they each possess a specific skillset. But Philip admitted the day is coming soon when he’ll tell James to find a younger partner.
“My game is more of a plodding type – hit fairways and not make many mistakes because of my age and lack of length,” the elder Pleat said. “I can’t tell him what to do because he can hit so many shots that I can’t hit or never could hit, so I have to make sure my way of thinking doesn’t get in the way of his plan.”
“He keeps saying that,” said James, not believing the rhetoric. “Honestly, he can still play. With his precision and my power, we can use that to our advantage.”
But no matter how they get ready or what happens at Pinehurst during championship week, Philip can’t think of a better way to spend a few days with his son. After all, there aren’t many sports in which a father can play alongside his son in the same competition.
“I’m fortunate,” said Phil. “James is the best son any parent could ask for. Obviously, this is something we’ll always remember.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.