Team Format of Four-Ball Features Diverse Partnerships April 27, 2018 | Tarzana, Calif. By Tom Mackin

Lea Venable, 44, found her partner, 18-year-old Gracyn Burgess, while competing in last year's South Carolina Women's Am. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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Rivals become temporary teammates, age differences dissolve, and seniority sometimes becomes a strategic asset.

Welcome to the team nature of the four-ball format, in which sides can often feature unlikely partnerships.

On a teeing ground last June during the Women’s South Carolina Golf Association Amateur Championship at Thornblade Club in Greer, S.C.,  Lea Venable threw out a question to her fellow competitors.

“I was talking about the qualifier for the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball [Championship] and who I could play with,” said the 44-year-old, who played in the inaugural championship in 2015 at Bandon Dunes with Mallory Hetzel.

That’s when 18-year-old Gracyn Burgess, a fellow South Carolina resident who played in the past three U.S. Girls’ Junior Championships, spoke up.

“I’ll play with you,” she said to Venable.

And just like that, a partnership was born. It’s proven to be a successful one so far, with the duo shooting a 66 to earn medalist honors at Reynolds Lake Oconee’s Great Waters Course in Eaton, Ga., on Aug. 29 to qualify for this week’s championship at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, Calif., just outside of Los Angeles.  

“She is such a go-getter after the golf ball. She just wants to go for everything,” said Burgess of Venable.

Added Venable: “It’s kind of ironic to find an 18-year-old who plays conservatively. She’s called me aggressive in the past but that may be the only time I’ve been called an aggressive player. I think I’m so conservative. I wish I was more aggressive. But I think Gracyn builds my confidence to go for shots.”

The 26-year age difference hasn’t caused any significant issues, either.

“We talk about music, her boyfriend situation, her little sister, really about anything,” said Venable. “I won’t say I play a mom role, but she knows where I am if she needs me.”

Said Burgess: “She gives me great advice on what to do next in life. She is a really good mentor to me and has talked me through a lot of life challenges and college choices. She’s an older image of myself since she has been through of all this before.”

That doesn’t mean the two have differences, especially when it comes to a heated in-state college rivalry. Venable played at South Carolina, while Burgess will compete for Clemson this fall. So during their preparations, some friendly wagering has taken place.

“I’m not on social media, but I promised Gracyn if we qualified that I would have some sort of social media account by the time the championship starts,” said Venable. “So we’ll see about that. As far as me wearing orange (Clemson’s colors) there may be a bet there too, like if we reach the quarters or semis. Then we’ll talk about it.”

If you thought competing neck and neck for the New York State Girls’ High School championship for the past four years would have driven 18-year-olds Lauren Peter and Lindsay May apart, think again.

The talented duo brings impressive resumes to El Caballero. May, of Auburn, N.Y., who will join Burgess at Clemson this fall, won the state title in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Last year, she was runner-up to Peter, of Carmel, N.Y., who is headed to Ohio State University this fall. The side was the medalist at the qualifier held at Knollwood Country Club in Elmsford, N.Y.

“I wouldn't call us rivals,” May told lohud.com recently. “We are just friends who have gotten so close to each other over the years. It's like one plays well one day, one plays well the other.”

Canadians Terrill Samuel (pictured) and Ivy Steinberg are banking on their experience this week at El Caballero C.C. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Then there is the Canadian duo of Ivy Steinberg, 61, and Terrill Samuel, 58, who form the oldest combined team in the 64-side field. Both veterans of amateur golf – Terrill finished second to fellow Canadian Judith Kyrinnis in the 2017 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur – the duo competed in a four-ball invitational last year and enjoyed it.

“I said to her, ‘What do you think about going to a [U.S.] Women’s Amateur Four-Ball qualifier?’” said Steinberg. “Terrill was all over it.”

The pair jelled well in terms of style and personality, earning medalist honors at Carlisle (Pa.) Country Club.

“We’re both very calm, very quite and never give up,” said Steinberg. “We don’t show a lot of emotion when we miss a shot.”

As for being part of the oldest team, Steinberg, who still plays ice hockey each fall, thinks that actually provides an advantage.

“In golf, inevitably, something bad happens somewhere on a hole,” she said. “I think being a little older, a little more mature, you’re able to deal with that a bit better. But the other advantage is while some of these kids really bomb the ball, we’re hitting to greens first. So if we hit it close, then the pressure is on our opponent.”

And the old proverb in golf that the ball doesn’t know how old you are is certainly applicable this week. All sides of the spectrum are represented with two sides having a combined age of 25 and a couple that reach triple digits.

“I do hear the comments at events, even at my home club, from teenagers and girls in their early 20s who say that, ‘Wow, you can still play well!’” said Steinberg. “But it’s nice of them to say, hey, this is something we can do later in life. Too many kids either turn pro or give up the game. Hopefully seeing players who are career amateurs like Terrill and I can show them there is another option. It’s also really fun to get the job done and win. There’s no question that there is pride in that.”

Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com.

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