The Olympic Club, in San Francisco, is where the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship will be contested from May 2-6, but Randolph, 41, of Franklin Lakes, N.J., said the cap choice was pure coincidence.
“I had worn it maybe twice,” said the 2013 New Jersey Mid-Amateur champion.
He will have a reason to wear it again, as Randolph, along with partner Keith Unikel, 35, of Potomac, Md., carded a 7-under 64 over the 6,835-yard, par-71 layout to earn one of the three available spots from the first of 51 sectional qualifiers.
Joining them will be medalists Grant Skyllas, 28, of Wyomissing, Pa., and Josh Krumholz, 27, of Reading, Pa., who shot 63, and New York City residents Sam Bernstein, 22, and Greg Shuman, 28, who carded a 64.
The USGA received 2,234 entries for the U.S. Four-Ball Championship, with only three teams fully exempt from qualifying by virtue of both partners being inside the top 400 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking™. The remaining 125 teams at The Olympic Club will come from the 51 sectionals scheduled in 35 states between Aug. 13 and March 31. Olympic’s Lake and Ocean Courses will be used for 36-hole stroke-play qualifying, with the low 32 teams advancing to match play, all on the famed Lake Course, site of five U.S. Opens.
The 60 teams that competed at Hackensack Golf Club for the qualifier conducted by the New Jersey State Golf Association comprised a mix of juniors, collegians, mid-amateurs (25 and older) and seniors (55 and older). Two teams flew up from Tennessee, and one of those duos, Dan Crockett and P.J. Smith, shot 5-under 66 to miss by two strokes. Several sets of brothers and college teammates competed. Craig Burmeister, of Woodbridge, Conn., and Kevin Cahill, of Wayne, Pa., who were teammates and fraternity brothers at Lehigh University, also shot 66.
Matthew Sughrue, 55, and Steve Delmar, 26, drove from the Washington, D.C., area because Delmar, the assistant golf coach at the University of Maryland, was doing some recruiting in the area. The partners were in line to force a possible 3-for-2 playoff for the final spots until a bogey on their final hole left them at 65.
They wound up as the second alternate following a four-hole playoff in near darkness with Niall Handley, of West Caldwell, N.J., and Merv Smith, of Mahwah, N.J. Smith’s two-putt on the fourth playoff hole secured the first-alternate slot.
Randolph and Unikel forged a friendship five years ago at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., where both are members. Randolph grew up playing at the three-time U.S. Open venue, and the duo is unbeaten in interclub matches in the D.C. area. Unikel played professionally for four years from 2001-2005 after graduating from the University of Maryland. His amateur status was reinstated in 2010 and last year he qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur at the Country Club of Birmingham (Ala.), where he advanced to the round of 16.
Randolph and Unikel offset bogeys at the first and 18th holes with nine birdies. It would have been 10 had Unikel not missed a 3-foot putt on the par-5 10th. But after signing their card, the two were agonizing over a closing bogey that they thought might cost them a trip to The Olympic Club.
Skyllas and Krumholz are longtime friends and fellow graduates of Governor Mifflin High in Shillington, Pa. Both went to Rider University in Lawrence Township, N.J., although Skyllas later transferred to Penn State.
They registered eight birdies, an eagle and two bogeys, with Krumholz’s 45-foot eagle at the par-5 eighth hole jump-starting their round.
“I know his game as well as he knows my game, and I never feel pressure out there when I hit a bad shot because I know he’s going to come through,” said Skyllas, the runner-up at this year’s Patterson Cup, a prestigious event run by the Golf Association of Philadelphia. “I think that frees you up in a partner event because you want to be with somebody you can trust.”
Shuman, a Harvard graduate who works at an investment firm in Jersey City, N.J., has been trying to recruit Bernstein since their high school days. Despite Shuman’s prodding, Bernstein chose Yale over Harvard.
Shuman’s 60-foot eagle putt at the par-5 10th and subsequent birdies by the 28-year-old at Nos. 13 and 17 propelled the duo to the 64.
“It was pretty much all him,” said Bernstein.
This will be Shuman’s first USGA championship and Bernstein’s second, after he qualified for the 2013 U.S. Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., but failed to make the match-play bracket. The team could face an issue if Bernstein manages to make it through either PGA European Tour or Web.com Tour Qualifying School later this year.
“We’ll see how it goes,” said Bernstein. “That would be a good problem to have.”
Randolph was tempted to turn pro after graduating from Rice University in 1995, but chose a career in investment banking instead.
He moved to New Jersey nine years ago. Before this year, Randolph had qualified for four USGA championships, the last coming two years ago at the U.S. Mid-Amateur. Now in a three-week period, he has qualified for two – the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Saucon Valley in September and the Four-Ball – and is possibly headed to a third (the USGA Men’s State Team Championship), since he is currently among the three point leaders in the state.
Interesting enough, his first USGA event was the 1990 U.S. Junior at Lake Merced Golf Club, which happens to be a stone’s throw from The Olympic Club.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.