CHAMPIONSHIPS
Four-Ball Qualifying Nearing Home Stretch January 8, 2015 By David Shefter, USGA

Sue Billek Nyhus is set to become the first player to compete in every female USGA championship. (USGA/Jonathan Ernst)

The road to the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championships is long, but there has been no shortage of interesting storylines as qualifying makes its way down the home stretch.

Qualifying for the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball and U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball championships – the first national championships added to the USGA roster since the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur in 1987 – commenced in mid-August and the fields will be completed by March 31.

Thirteen of the 51 scheduled qualifiers remain for the men’s championship – to be contested May 2-6 at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. Only five of the 28 scheduled qualifiers for the women’s championship – May 9-13 at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Ore. – remain after the Jan. 7 qualifier at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, Calif.

Although the first tee shots are four months away, a major milestone has already been achieved. Sue Billek Nyhus, of Provo, Utah, qualified last month in Tucson, Ariz., and is scheduled to become the first player to compete in every female USGA championship. She qualified with partner Annette Gaiotti, of Salt Lake City.

Beginning with the 1980 U.S. Girls’ Junior, Nyhus will have played in eight different USGA championships, including the Women’s State Team and now-retired U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. She was the runner-up in the 1999 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, one of two mid-amateur golfers to reach a WAPL final. Two years ago, she completed her “personal grand slam” by qualifying for the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur.

“The people associated with golf have been very good to me,” said Nyhus. “Many have inspired me and I in turn have tried to use golf as a vehicle for teaching life skills to those I coach. I am so fortunate to have been introduced to golf just as opportunities for girls and women in athletics were expanding. I am honored … and look forward to competing at Bandon Dunes.”

Nyhus, who turns 52 in February, is in her fourth season as the women’s golf coach at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah, where her daughter, Kimberly, is a sophomore and a member of the team. Nyhus also spent 11 seasons as the women’s coach at her alma mater, Brigham Young University. In 1999, she became the first female to be named the Utah Golf Association’s Player of the Year. The Utah association also named her its Female Golfer of the Decade for the 1990s.

Nyhus is one of several interesting storylines from the completed qualifiers.

On the men’s side, six U.S. Mid-Amateur champions have qualified, including reigning champion Scott Harvey, of Greensboro, N.C., who earned medalist honors at the Bellerive Country Club qualifier in St. Louis with partner Todd Mitchell, of Bloomington, Ill., the 2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up. Other Mid-Amateur champions to earn a place in the 128-team field include Kenneth Bakst (1997), of New York City, Austin Eaton III (2004), of Lakeville, Minn., Tim Jackson (1994 and 2001), of Memphis, Tenn., Kevin Marsh (2005), of Henderson, Nev., and Michael McCoy (2013), of Des Moines, Iowa. Jackson (1995 and 1999) is the only past Walker Cup competitor to have qualified so far. Four-time Mid-Amateur champion and three-time Walker Cup player Nathan Smith, of Pittsburgh, Pa., will attempt to earn a place in the field with partner and 2013 Walker Cup teammate Todd White, of Spartanburg, S.C., at the March 23 sectional at Pinewild Country Club’s Holly Course in Pinehurst, N.C.

Two more Mid-Amateur runners-up will join Mitchell in the field: Brad Nurski (2014), of St. Joseph, Mo., and Tim Spitz (2009), of Rochester, N.Y.

Tyler Shelton, of Fairway, Kan., who helped Kansas win the 2010 USGA Men's State Team Championship (with Bryan Norton and Charlie Stevens), and his partner Doug Albers, of Leawood, Kan., shared medalist honors at the Mission Hills, Kan., site with a 66.

Six sets of brothers, including twins James and Andrew Lawson, have qualified. The other brother tandems include Nick and Tanner Higham; Ryan and Jason Higton; Mike and Greg Melhus; Daniel and Benjamin Day, and Jay and Brian Csipkes. A father-son duo also qualified: Andrew and John Sajevic, both of whom represented Nebraska in the 2014 USGA Men’s State Team Championship.

Speaking of brothers, Tim Mickelson, the brother of five-time major champion and 1990 U.S. Amateur winner Phil Mickelson, earned medalist honors with partner Jake Yount with a 63 at the Poppy Hills qualifier on Dec. 1 in Pebble Beach, Calif. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Mickelson, who first spotted Yount at the 2004 U.S. Junior Amateur at The Olympic Club while he was the coach at the University of San Diego. Yount eventually played for Mickelson at USD. Mickelson is now in his fourth season as the head men’s golf coach at Arizona State University, where Phil is serving as an interim assistant coach. Tim hasn’t won a USGA title or played in a Walker Cup Match like his older brother, but he did advance to the quarterfinals of the 2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur.

Another recognizable name in the field is former UCLA and NFL quarterback Drew Olson, of Piedmont, Calif. Olson, who was a finalist for the 2005 Manning and Johnny Unitas Awards, survived a playoff with partner David Reneker, of Santa Monica, Calif., in the Dec. 8 qualifier at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento, Calif. Olson’s caddie was PGA Tour golfer Spencer Levin, the low amateur at the 2004 U.S. Open and a member of the 2004 USA World Amateur Team.

This will be Olson’s third USGA championship, having previously qualified for two U.S. Mid-Amateurs. He began to take golf seriously after retiring from the NFL in 2008 following stints with three teams: Baltimore, Carolina and San Francisco. He also played a season for the Amsterdam Admirals in the now-defunct NFL Europa.

“Our philosophy is to just keep two balls in play and have two putts for birdie on every hole,” Olson told ESPN.com. “I played my best football at UCLA when I was really relaxed and just let it fly. That's kind of translated to golf. If I hit a bad shot, I don't let it bother me too much.”

Another qualifier with a familiar name is Trevor Sluman, whose uncle, Jeff, won the 1988 PGA Championship and is now a regular on the Champions Tour. Trevor, of Rochester, N.Y., plays for the University of Louisville.

The most unique qualifying story came out of the Hawaii sectional, where Brent Grant, who represented Hawaii in the 2014 USGA Men’s State Team Championship and plans to play at Oregon State University next year, earned a spot in the field by himself when his partner, Bill Walbert, had a work emergency and couldn’t play on the day of the qualifier. Grant carded a career-best 63 on his own ball.

Three men’s teams were exempt from qualifying based on both players being ranked inside the top 400 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ at the close of entries. Bryson Dechambeau, who is partnering with fellow Southern Methodist University golfer Austin Smotherman, helped the USA retain the Eisenhower Trophy last September at the World Amateur Team Championship in Japan.

The other two exempt teams are Garrett Rank and Patrick Christovich, and juniors Sam Burns and Austin Connelly.

Four women’s teams were exempt from qualifying based on both players being ranked among the top 500 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™. Hannah O’Sullivan, who is partnering with Robynn Ree, advanced to the semifinals of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur. Both players plan to play at Southern Cal. Angel Yin, the medalist at the 2014 U.S. Girls’ Junior, is exempt with partner Muni He.

The other two exempt teams are Rinko Mitsunaga and Mika Liu, and Emily Campbell and Cheyenne Knight.

Three U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champions have qualified, led by four-time champion Meghan Stasi, of Oakland Park, Fla., who carded a 68 with Dawn Woodard, of Greer, S.C., to claim the only spot from the Elgin, S.C., sectional. Stasi (2008) is the only former USA Curtis Cup competitor to have qualified. The other Women’s Mid-Amateur champions to have qualified are Amber Marsh Elliott (2003), of Greensboro, N.C., and Martha Leach (2009), of Hebron, Ky. Leach is also half of the lone mother-daughter tandem to qualify, alongside Madison Gerstle, of Cincinnati. The duo shot a 73 at Greystone Country Club in Dickson, Tenn., to garner the only qualifying spot.

Three other USGA champions have qualified on the women’s side: Mina Hardin (2010 U.S. Senior Amateur), Thuhashini Selvaratnam (2007 USGA Women’s State Team) and Lynn Thompson, of Cincinnati, who helped Ohio win the 2003 USGA Women’s State Team Championship. She is partnering with Janie Klare, of Cincinnati. Hardin has partnered with fellow Coachella Valley (Calif.) resident Caryn Wilson. The Sri Lanka-born Selvaratnam has teamed with Mari Miezwa, of Chandler, Ariz.

Christina Proteau, of Canada, who advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur while six months pregnant with her first child, qualified two weeks before her run at Harbour Trees Golf Club in Noblesville, Ind.

Proteau is the lone Canadian to have qualified, and one of three international golfers. The others are the junior team of Maria Fassi, 16, and Maria Balcazar, 16, of Mexico. Hardin was born in Mexico, but has resided in the U.S. for many years.

Three sets of sisters are in the field: Hana and Anna Ku, of Basking Ridge, N.J.; Margaret and Elizabeth Gilley Payne, of Flossmoor, Ill., and Susana and Camilla Vik, of Greenwich, Conn.

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