Summers in North Dakota meant one thing for twin brothers Greg and Mike Melhus: plenty of trips to their local nine-holer, Mayville Golf Course. From the time they were in third grade, Mom would drop the boys off in the morning, bring them sandwiches for lunch and then pick them up at dusk for dinner.
“I think everyone probably got sick of seeing us out there all summer,” said Greg, who is three minutes older. “At a nine-hole course, we could play five, six… eight rounds a day.
“It was a great place to learn the game. It was a 3,000-yard course, and not as bad as you think. It had a nice little [practice] putting green and driving range.”
In other words, it was the perfect place to not only hone their golf skills, but bond as brothers. It’s a golf relationship that continues to flourish for the 38-year-olds, who remain close despite living several hours apart; Greg in West Fargo, N.D., and Mike in the Minneapolis suburb of Rogers, Minn. Ironically, each works for the same consulting company, albeit with different territories.
So when the USGA announced the creation of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship in 2013, Mike didn’t hesitate to call his “older” brother.
“He said we’re in on this deal,” said Greg.
The two earned their way to The Olympic Club last fall and are one of nine brother tandems in the 128-team field for the inaugural championship. They also joined 32-year-olds James and Andrew Lawson, of Los Angeles and Dallas, respectively, as the only sets of twins to qualify.
“It’s sweet,” said Greg, a veteran of four Men’s State Teams and two U.S. Mid-Amateurs. “For it to be Mike’s first USGA event, it’s a pretty cool deal. I couldn’t think of a better person to do it with.”
The championship’s family atmosphere is further personified with three father-son duos. Not many games offer an opportunity for a son to compete alongside his father on even terms.
“We were so excited when we qualified,” said 20-year-old Tyler Apps, of Phoenix, who has partnered with his 55-year-old father, Marc. “Just to have a partner that I’ve known for a little while … [makes] it a great experience.”
Portland, N.D., will never be confused with Portland, Maine or Portland, Ore. The town doesn’t even have a McDonald’s, and the Dairy Queen was replaced several years ago with a locally-owned ice cream shop. The golf season is short, but for the Melhus boys, the nine-hole course two miles away in Mayville, population 1,500, was their sanctuary.
There was constant competition, but the outcomes were generally one-sided.
“I think the last time I beat him was in 1995 at regionals in high school,” quipped Mike. “I literally can count on one hand how many times I beat him from [age] 10 to 25.”
Greg, who played collegiately at the University of North Dakota, quickly interjected. “Mike’s game has gotten really good over the last three or four years. He’s hit a lot more range balls, [practiced] putting, chipping and all that. I’d love to tell you I do most of the heavy lifting here, but fortunately it’s a pretty even deal.”
This week, Greg and Mike are just happy to see green turf. It was a rough winter in the Upper Midwest, so getting quality practice time in for the championship was challenging.
“We’re trying to get turf interaction,” said Mike with a smile.
Weather is rarely an issue in Arizona, where Tyler Apps just completed his junior season at Division I Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. From the time he was learning to walk, Marc put a club in Tyler’s hand, and the two have been competing in father-son events since Tyler entered grammar school. Tyler finally beat his father, a former professional who regained his amateur status in 1995, at the age of 15, needing six birdies and an ace on their home course, Chaparral Pines, to accomplish the feat.
“As a father, the greatest thing in the world is to be able to play with your son,” said Marc, a real-estate broker.
Until March, neither had ever qualified for a USGA championship.
Darkness required the playoff for the final two spots at Desert Forest Golf Club in Carefree, Ariz., to resume the next morning. So Marc drove an hour from his home in Payson and Tyler skipped a management class. Both hit inauspicious tee shots into unplayable lies. Tyler, however, managed to get his 200-yard approach to within 80 feet. And then he miraculously made par by draining a cross-country putt that had eight feet of right-to-left break to secure a spot in the championship.
“It just hit us that we were in,” said Marc, recalling their emotions.
Six weeks later, they were making the 12-hour drive to The Olympic Club. Marc’s wife, Rene, is serving as his caddie, while Tyler brought girlfriend, Deanna Salvatore, to be on his bag.
“Tyler is our birdie machine,” said Marc, who played at Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point before moving to Arizona and turning pro while finishing his degree at Arizona State. “But if he’s in his pocket, then occasionally the old man has to go and try to make a tough par or birdie. That’s our strategy.”
Like the rest of the field, Hussain and Ahmed Ali, brothers from Palo Alto, Calif., used the two practice rounds to familiarize themselves with the championship setup of The Olympic Club’s two courses. But it was 20-year-old Hussain who was leaning harder on his younger partner for advice.
Ahmed, 15, a Palo Alto High freshman, became an Olympic Club Junior Merit Member a couple of months ago, and regularly makes the 40-minute commute to the venerable club. Hussain, a junior at nearby Dominican College, had not seen the Lake and Ocean courses before. So during Thursday’s first practice round, he absorbed as much local knowledge as possible from Ahmed on the nine holes they played together, before Ahmed had to hustle back to school.
Ahmed, the youngest player in the field, is the shorter, but straighter hitter of the two brothers, so the two have formulated a strategy of letting him go first on each tee, allowing Hussain to take a more aggressive approach.
“We both have our strengths and weaknesses,” said Hussain. “His short game combined with my long game.”
Yet it’s Ahmed who has taken the lead, from becoming the first in the family to take up the game seven years ago, to convincing his older sibling to enter the U.S. Four-Ball qualifying event at Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, Calif.
At least school won’t be an issue during the stroke-play qualifying rounds this weekend. If they advance to match play, Ahmed is expected to get a hall pass from class on Monday.
“I think our parents would understand that,” said Hussain.
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.