James Edmondson must feel like he’s run a marathon this week, or at least walked the equivalent of one.
Shuttling between TPC Harding Park for his full-time job as a PGA Tour caddie and the Olympic Club to compete in the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, Edmondson estimated he’s logged around 60 miles since last Sunday.
Edmondson, the veteran caddie for three-time winner Ryan Palmer, began his week Sunday at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., where his boss played a practice round with Brooks Koepka in preparation for the U.S. Open in June. Then it was off to Harding Park to prepare for the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship, which began on Wednesday. Palmer, however, failed to advance out of pool play, leaving the door open for Edmondson to begin Saturday’s first round on the Lake Course with partner Zach Atkinson.
But he didn’t come into the championship blind. Edmonson played 12 holes on Olympic’s Ocean Course, the companion stroke-play qualifying venue, on Thursday, prior to Palmer’s match with Marc Leishman. Following Palmer’s Friday match with Justin Rose, Edmondson jumped in his car for the three-minute drive to Olympic, where he made the side’s scheduled practice-round time on the Lake Course.
“It’s been a busy week,” said Edmondson after the side posted a 2-under 68 in Saturday’s first round on the Lake Course. “This is more difficult [to walk] than over at Harding Park.”
When Edmondson, 38, of North Richmond Hills, Texas, signed up with Atkinson last summer for the Four-Ball, he had no idea it would conflict with one of the premier stops on the PGA Tour. The match-play event was changing sites, but no official date or sponsor had been determined.
“We just signed up because it’s a team thing and we thought it would be fun, and we ended up qualifying,” said Edmondson, who became friends with Atkinson eight years ago when they lived three houses down from each other in suburban Fort Worth. “I didn’t know what it went up against [on the PGA Tour] and it just worked out.”
Of course, Edmondson didn’t quite envision this week being that chaotic.
“This is out of the ordinary,” he said. “It’s only one time, so it’s fun.”
If Atkinson, who helped Texas win the USGA Men’s State Team Championship last fall, and Edmondson qualify for match play and win three matches, another potential conflict looms. The Players Championship begins Thursday in Florida and Palmer is in the field for the PGA Tour’s flagship event. The Four-Ball semifinals and final are scheduled for Wednesday.
Thankfully, Palmer is quite familiar with the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass and Edmondson said he generally only plays nine holes prior to the first round.
“I talked to Ryan about it,” said Edmondson of the potential situation. “If we get lucky and make it that far, we’ll work it out. I can still get a red-eye Wednesday and be there in time. Hopefully he’ll get a late [starting] time Thursday and I won’t have to worry about anything.”
Except keeping his feet fresh.
A few days before departing for the Olympic Club, Cameron Hooper received some discouraging news. David Noll Jr., his partner for the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, had suffered a freak accident. A toolbox on his truck somehow fell and caught his thumb, resulting in nerve damage and 32 stitches.
Hooper, 27, of Atlanta, suddenly had a dilemma. He could still play in the Four-Ball without a partner, or he could withdraw. Even though the Four-Ball involves a partner, the Rules of Golf allow for a side to consist of one player.
“I felt if my game was good, I probably would have the chance to make the cut,” said Hooper. “David and I talked as well. He said if he was left alone, he’d go out there and play.”
Hooper managed a 2-over 72 on the Ocean Course, posting three birdies against five bogeys.
“It was OK,” said Hooper of his round. “I wasn’t really sharp the whole day. I think qualifying [for match play] is the hardest part. I know if I had a partner today, we wouldn’t have made any bogeys. We probably would have shot a few under for sure.”
Even if Hooper fails to qualify for match play, the trip has been fun. Earlier in the week, he reconnected with former Coastal Carolina teammate Dustin Johnson, who competed in the WGC event at Harding Park. They had dinner and reminisced about the 2007 U.S. Amateur at Olympic.
“We had a really good time,” said Hooper. “I’m glad I still came, but it’s disappointing David wasn’t able to come.”
Oliver Rheinfurth and Marc Reyes are not related, didn’t attend college together, don’t live in the same neighborhood, work at the same company or come from the same generation.
But one day at the daily-fee River Ridge Golf Club in Oxnard, Calif., the two happened to be paired together. Rheinfurth, 55, of Encino, Calif., was impressed with how Reyes, a19-year-old born in the Philippines, conducted himself.
“A lot of youngsters tend to be difficult,” said Rheinfurth, the CEO of a finance company who owns dual citizenship from the U.S. and Germany. “He was a perfect gentleman out of the Jordan Spieth mold. How could I not want to play with somebody this good and so nice?”
So when U.S. Amateur Four-Ball registration opened up last year, Rheinfurth, who played for UCLA in the early 1980s with the likes of 1995 U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin, 1985 USA Walker Cup competitor Duffy Waldorf and future PGA Tour pros Jay Delsing, Tom Pernice Jr. and Steve Pate, contacted his much younger golf buddy whom he calls his “adopted son.”
Reyes, who is completing his sophomore year at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, agreed and the two qualified at River Ridge. Ironically, one of the sides it edged in the playoff for the final spot featured John Pate, the brother of Rheinfurth’s ex-UCLA teammate.
Their 36-year age gap is the largest among the 128 sides.
For Rheinfurth, the Four-Ball is a homecoming, as he qualified for the 1981 U.S. Amateur at the Olympic Club, 14 years before his partner was born. Back then, parts of the Ocean Course hugged the coastline.
“Three holes [of the Ocean Course] were on the other side of Skyline Boulevard,” recalled Rheinfurth. “The greens were brick hard and the rough was thick. There were a lot more trees. You couldn’t see the [adjoining] fairways because it was so dense from the trees.”
Rheinfurth and Reyes had little trouble in Saturday’s first round, carding a 3-under 67 on the Ocean Course.
“I’m just trying to follow the leader,” said Reyes of his partner. “This is my first time out here. I played at the [final] U.S. Amateur Public Links last year [in Kansas]. But this course is unbelievable.”
Not only are 16-year-olds Kyosuke Hara and Kyle Suppa the youngest side in the field, but the two Honolulu residents also were granted a major chance last month when the qualifier from their Hawaii sectional withdrew last month. Brent Grant made national headlines last November when he shot a 63 on his own ball to earn medalist honors and take the lone qualifying spot at Honolulu Country Club. Grant’s partner, Bill Walbert, was called into emergency surgery and couldn’t play, so Grant went at it solo, shooting a career-best round.
But last month, the Grant/Walbert side withdrew from the championship, opening the door for Hara and Suppa, the first alternates from the site.
Both enjoyed USGA experiences last year when Suppa qualified for the U.S. Junior Amateur and Suppa the U.S. Amateur. Neither advanced to match play, but both learned about championship course setups, something that paid dividends on Saturday when they carded a 4-under 66 on the Lake Course.
“I noticed how important it was to hit the fairway,” said Suppa. “When I hit it in the rough, it was dead.”
Added Hara: “It’s easier to get used to because we have played USGA events before.”
While the two attend different high schools – Suppa goes to the Punahou School and Hara to Monanalua High – they have played in four-ball events in the past. They once shot a 58 on the par-70 Ala Wai Golf Course. So it seemed natural to give the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball a try. And despite their youth, they don’t feel out of place. .
“It doesn’t really feel different,” said Suppa. “There are older guys out there when we play open [amateur] tournaments. But it’s definitely nice to be the youngest team.”
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.