U.S. AMATEUR FOUR-BALL
Four-Ball Becomes Family Event for Wall Brothers May 23, 2019 | Brielle, N.J. By David Shefter, USGA

Brothers Ethan (left), Jack (center) and Jeremy Wall plan to mix fun, camaraderie and competition at Bandon Dunes. (USGA/Jonathan Kolbe)

George and Eileen Wall have never worried about planning family vacations. With four boys playing competitive golf, three at an elite level, summers turned into weekly road trips.

While Augie, the eldest, eventually became a spectator and occasional caddie, the three youngest, Ethan (now 24), Jeremy (23) and Jack (18) created scheduling challenges for mom and dad.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a vacation where there hasn’t been a tournament,” said Jack.

Even when they weren’t competing, the other brothers often tagged along, which made for occasionally uncomfortable treks – especially at far-away events – in the family vehicle. George and his brother, Jeff, are the proprietors of George Wall Ford-Lincoln in Red Bank, N.J., a dealership started by their father in 1960, so the family prefers road trips.

“It’s fun in the beginning,” said Ethan of the longer excursions. “The first four hours are great, but then all of a sudden Jack will be sprawled across the middle seat sleeping.”

The Walls are about to embark on another “family” vacation this week when Ethan, Jeremy and Jack compete in the 5th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. Ethan and Jeremy, who played together at Loyola University in Baltimore, Md., a Division I school that competes in the Patriot League, qualified as one side, while Jack, who is headed to the University of South Carolina this fall, is partnering with fellow 2018 Christian Brothers Academy graduate Branden Hansen, 19, of Spring Lake, N.J. Hansen has signed to play at Rutgers.

For most, going to Bandon Dunes is the ultimate buddies’ trip. For the Wall brothers, a competitive component has been added.

“Typically, events that we are all in are Met [Golf Association] or New Jersey [State Golf Association] where we just wake up that morning and go,” said Ethan.

Adding to the specialness is the fact that George and Augie went with 14 others to Bandon Dunes Resort in 2017 on a buddies’ trip, a year before their brothers qualified for the championship on Sept. 11 at Green Brook Country Club in North Caldwell, N.J.

Jack and Brendan were medalists at 10-under 62. Ethan and Jeremy shot 64 to garner the third and final spot.

They don’t remember celebrating too much after receiving their championship packets, although it was the first time Ethan had qualified for a USGA championship after many near-misses. “I think I’ve been an alternate or within two strokes [of qualifying] seven times,” said Ethan.

They’ve had eight months to absorb it all. If there’s any hubris, it’s Jeremy finding time to playfully jab his two siblings that this will be his sixth USGA appearance. Jack, who missed the cut in the 2016 U.S. Junior Amateur, will make his second start.

“I am like MJ now,” said Jeremy, making a not-so-relatable reference to Michael Jordan’s six NBA titles.

But the real prize is the trip to Bandon Dunes. George and Augie have gushed about the venue. They have strongly suggested using local caddies, which Jack, Ethan and Brendan plan to do. Jeremy remains on the fence.

Then again, he’s a bit idiosyncratic. During his senior season at Loyola, he carried two drivers for a tournament at Penn State because he has a love-hate relationship with that club. Then at the Patriot League finals, he accidentally inserted a second driver before leaving his hotel room and was penalized four strokes for having 15 clubs. Loyola wound up losing by three strokes.

“I was thinking about bringing just 10 clubs out to Bandon,” said Jeremy, half-jokingly.

Given his short-game prowess, he might only need a handful of implements. Loyola coach Chris Baloga, himself a three-time U.S. Amateur Four-Ball qualifier, gushes about Jeremy’s skill with a wedge and putter.

“Honestly, his short game is one of the best I’ve ever seen,” said Baloga. “He is fascinating around the greens.”

Said Jack of his brother’s short game: “It’s sick and he’s not afraid to tell you.”

The four Wall brothers posed together at Pinehurst when they competed several years ago in the U.S. Kids Championship. (Jeremy Wall) 

Jeremy then showed off his hands to a visitor. “These are all I’ve got.”

With Ethan’s consistency and Jeremy’s ability to get himself out of tough circumstances, Baloga feels his former players could be formidable at Bandon.

“I think they will do well,” added Baloga, whose had three other ex-players (Connor Flach, William Wears and Brendan Peel) qualify for past Four-Balls. “I am sure they will heckle and rib each other a bit, but they are really good friends.”

Being the youngest, Jack has been afforded a taste of elite golf from the time Jeremy qualified for his first USGA championship in 2011. He supported his older brother at the U.S. Junior Amateur at Gold Mountain in Bremerton, Wash., where he remembers seeing eventual champion Jordan Spieth putting on the practice green and sensing his greatness. Two years later at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., Jack, then 12, caddied for his brother during a practice round and Jeremy let him hit a shot. Bragging about his brother’s skill to his fellow competitors, Jeremy handed Jack a 3-wood. It’s a good thing the ensuing shot didn’t portend his future.

“I think I topped it and started crying,” said Jack, now laughing at the ignominious moment. “[The club] was a little big. That’s my excuse. I did not hit a good shot. I hoseled it and it went down into the maintenance area. I think I hit something down there.”

When he failed to qualify for match play, Jeremy, who has made just one of five cuts in his USGA starts, said: “I told [Jack] I didn’t qualify because I literally couldn’t get that [shot] out of my head.”

Jack has since become one of the top juniors in the country. He already owns a couple of American Junior Golf Association titles, and after capturing the New Jersey state high school title last year, NJ.com named him its player of the year. His talent was further showcased during U.S. Open sectional qualifying at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J. After a 3-over start through four holes, Jack played his final 32 holes in 6 under. A three-putt bogey on his 34th hole and not making birdie on the par-5 35th hole left him two strokes shy of the playoff for the final spot.

His performance at Canoe Brook caught the eye of fellow competitor Mike Miller, who earned one of the five spots to play at Shinnecock Hills.

“Honestly, his future is so bright,” Miller told NJ.com. “He hasn’t even developed yet and he’s phenomenal.”

Two months later, Jack nearly became the youngest champion in Metropolitan Open history, losing by one stroke to Andrew Svoboda.

“If I could hit my driver like [Jack],” said Jeremy, I would probably be a [PGA] Tour player. No joke.”

But Bandon could be the perfect place for the three brothers to showcase their talents. A venue where the wind can often blow hard, keeping the ball down is paramount. Jeremy and Ethan both are low-ball hitters, and the lack of trees could be offset by Jeremy’s propensity to hit wayward drives.

Jack and Brendan, who are missing Christian Brother Academy’s commencement ceremonies to play, come into the event with a different mindset. Jack’s ability to stay in virtually every hole allows Hansen to be aggressive. At the qualifier, Hansen reached a drivable par 4 and made eagle.

“Brendan is a great wind player,” said Jack, the 2018 New Jersey State Golf Association Amateur runner-up and 2017 NJSGA Junior champion. “We think if we play our games and play well, we can do some damage out there.”

The boys have been doing damage with their clubs since they could walk. With the family home just off the 11th fairway at Manasquan River Golf Club, the Walls enjoyed easy access to a championship-caliber course, one that hosted the 1990 U.S. Girls’ Junior. It wasn’t uncommon to see them squeeze in nine holes at dusk. All of them preferred to play over beating balls on the range, and they did so without any formal training. They instead used their natural instincts or picked up tips from their dad or others.

George won the 1995 club championship at MRGC, and Jeremy (five), Ethan (two) and Jack (one) have claimed the last eight. The family could create its own Wall of Fame.

All four brothers began their competitive careers in U.S. Kids tournaments, going to places such as Pinehurst (N.C.) and Arizona to play on the national level. The latter three progressed to American Junior Golf Association and USGA events. They also spend their summers competing in dozens of Met Golf Association, New Jersey State Golf Association and Golf Association of Philadelphia tournaments. Last year, Jeremy won the GAP’s BMW Philadelphia Amateur, defeating Andrew Mason in the title match.

Earlier this month, Ethan and Jeremy were involved in a 5-for-1 playoff for the last spot at a U.S. Open local qualifier in Yardley, Pa. Jeremy, again showcasing his short-game talent, drained a 55-foot putt on the first extra hole to advance to the June 3 sectional in Purchase, N.Y. Not long after the playoff, the two were back at the dealership. Jeremy had to deliver a vehicle to a customer while Ethan works in the accounting department. Augie serves as the service manager.

Three days later, Jack emerged from a 3-for-2 playoff in his U.S. Open local qualifier in Laurel, N.Y., to earn a second consecutive trip to sectionals. Playoff pressure is obviously in their DNA.

Someday, George hopes the three brothers will run the dealership and possibly sponsor Jack in his quest to play professional golf, something Jeremy and Ethan didn’t consider as they completed their college degrees. Ethan went to graduate school at Loyola. They would prefer to enjoy mid-amateur and senior golf.

“We like to play 18 holes and then have a cocktail,” said Jeremy, getting a nod of approval from Ethan. “We like it when [tournaments] have an open bar.”

But post-round libations aside, the Walls have a major event on the horizon. They are flying as a family to Portland, Ore., where George has arranged to pick up a Ford Expedition from a local dealer. The six will stuff luggage and three golf travel bags into the vehicle before embarking on the five-hour trek. When the championship concludes – they hope it will be Wednesday afternoon – they’ll share turns at the wheel for the cross-country drive back to New Jersey, arriving in Brielle in time for Jeremy and Jack to prepare for sectionals.

In between, George, Augie and Eileen will spectate and, perhaps, get in a round of golf on one of Bandon’s other two championship venues (Bandon Dunes or Bandon Trails) or the par-3 Preserve.

Jeremy and Ethan, who will play practice rounds with Jack and Brendan, hope they can be one of the 32 sides to qualify for match play, but as Jeremy aptly put it, “I just want to have fun.” Ethan echoed those thoughts.

Jack and Brendan are confident they can achieve that goal.

So what happens if the brothers somehow drew each other in a match?

“I’ve got a hundy ($100) on you guys,” said Jeremy, looking directly at Jack and Brendan. “Let’s go to Vegas. Put that [bet] down in a [sports]book.”

Said Jack: “We’ve joked with each other that we would see each other in the final four. I think these guys (Ethan and Jeremy) would be trying to get in each other’s heads, and Brendan and I would be sitting in the background just trying to play golf. It would be super fun.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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