After two days of battling rain, cold, wind and two challenging courses (Old Macdonald and Pacific Dunes) at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, the original field of 128 sides in the 5th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship has now been trimmed to 32.
Over the next three days, sides will go head to head in match play to determine the next set of names to be inscribed on the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Trophy, and eventually on the 2019 champions’ plaque that will be installed inside the USGA’s Hall of Champions in the USGA Golf Museum later this year.
So as the tension and drama begin with the Round of 32, here are three things to know going into match play:
No. 1 Target
Since the championship’s inception in 2015, the medalist(s) have never managed to win the title. The best run by a No. 1 seed came in 2016 when Brandon Matthews, now a professional on the Web.com Tour, and Patrick Ross reached the quarterfinals at Winged Foot Golf Club before losing to the eventual champions, Benjamin Baxter and Andrew Buchanan, 2 and 1.
Twice, the No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Round of 16, and in 2017 on Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2, Will Grimmer and fellow Ohio State golfer Clark Engle lost in the Round of 32.
But this year, three sides have a chance to end the drought. Texans Christopher Wheeler and Derek Abel; Marlton, N.J., residents Vince Kwon and Troy Vannucci; and former Santa Clara University teammates Derek Ackerman and Matthew McCarty all posted 13-under 128.
“It’s going to be different, because it’s not individual match play,” said Abel. “You kind of go into it not knowing what to expect. You just try to keep an open mind about it and take it a hole at a time.”
Added Wheeler: “We’re just trying to make the best score on the hole and we’ll figure out if it is good enough afterward.”
Vannucci certainly didn’t see being medalist as any type of curse. Certainly, the target is much bigger, but it also says how well the side is playing. Then again, everyone starts at zero each day.
“Someone’s got to do it and [the streak] eventually has to be broken,” said Vannucci. “It’s an honor [to be medalist].”
Match play typically allows players to be a bit more aggressive due to the hole-by-hole nature of the format. In four-ball, the strategy is heightened because one member of the side could attack a particular hole location or take an aggressive line off the tee, while his partner goes the conservative route.
Old Macdonald, the venue for all of the matches, lends itself to that kind of philosophy with its wide fairways and enormous green complexes.
“They can do anything they want out there,” said 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Scott Harvey, who has partnered with Todd Mitchell in all five U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championships (they were semifinalists in 2015). “There are some crazy greens where you can put holes anywhere. It’s going to be interesting. And there will be wind, too. It’s going to be fun.”
Added Mitchell: “We’re as comfortable there (Old Macdonald) as you can be.”
Certainly, there will be critical holes, especially if the winds pick up. That’s when match-play experience can become invaluable.
“I think [Old Macdonald] is a great course for match play,” said Derek Busby, who is partnering with 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Stewart Hagestad. “I think you can make some birdies out there, but I think if you start pressing and go at a couple of the tough holes like on 10, 11 and 12, you can get yourself in some weird spots. It’s nice to be playing with a seasoned USGA guy because we know that we can play away from some pins and we kind of know what to expect.”
Trending in Right Direction
Two years ago, Floridians Chip Brooke and Marc Dull made a run to the semifinals on Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 in the North Carolina Sandhills. Last year, Dull became a runner-up for a second time in a USGA championship when he and Brooke fell to the talented junior duo of Cole Hammer and Garrett Barber at Jupiter Hills Club.
Due to the ongoing NCAA Championships in Arkansas, Hammer and Barber could not defend their title. So Dull and Brooke, who posted 9-under 132 in stroke play, are hoping they can take it one step further and win the championship, if you believe in natural progressions.
“Most people try to play fast and think they have to get out to an early lead,” said Dull, a full-time caddie at Florida’s Streamsong Resort who lost to Sammy Schmitz in the 2015 U.S. Mid-Amateur final at John’s Island Club in Vero Beach, Fla. “People get too aggressive and I have found that if you stay patient in match play it tends to work in your favor.”
Added Brooke, a former caddie at Bandon Dunes: “It’s a marathon. It’s one match at a time. Each hole is like its own individual match.
“We have a really good record in match play and we have lost to the champs both times (Shuai Ming Wong and Frankie Capan in 2017). I am not sad that Cole Hammer is not here (laughs) but we need to keep doing what we are doing. I trust [Marc] and he trusts me, and we just go play.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.