Drivable par 4s are not a new concept, as course architects have long incorporated them into their designs as an element of surprise and risk-reward opportunity.At USGA championships, especially in the match-play portions, such nuances have become commonplace aspects of course setup.
Olympic’s venerable Lake Course, site of five previous U.S. Opens, offers two short par-4 holes. The uphill seventh, which measured 300 yards in stroke play, has long been a drivable par 4. The 18th hole, however, has never been considered drivable. Players generally hit an iron off the tee to properly position themself for a difficult uphill approach.
But the USGA, in conjunction with Olympic, had a forward tee constructed prior to this championship. In Monday’s Round of 32, it measured 266 yards, 81 shorter than it played during stroke play.
“The whole dynamic of it is great,” said reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Scott Harvey. “There’s the risk-reward. There is the team [aspect]. It’s crazy, but it’s fun.”
Harvey and partner Todd Mitchell came to 18 all square in their match with Andrew Wyatt and Brett Douglas. Mitchell tried to drive the green and missed. Harvey, however, hit a perfect tee shot.
“If we don’t hit it good, then [our opponents] are just free-wheeling and they’ve got nothing to lose.”
And that’s exactly what Bill McCarthy, the director of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, had in mind. He wants sides to be creative and think about strategy.
Harvey and Mitchell halved the hole and eventually prevailed in 19 holes.
“I think you have to play for birdie on 18,” said Mitchell. “Now if you are 1 up, maybe one guy lays up and the other guy goes for it because even at 100 yards, that [approach] shot is not easy.”
Bryson DeChambeau and Austin Smotherman took a go-for-it philosophy on No. 7 (257 yards) during their 5-and-3 win over Matthew Collins and Wes Stafford. No matter what, they were hitting driver.
“Unfortunately, [the tee] was a little too far up,” said DeChambeau. “I couldn’t hit a full driver, but I also couldn’t hit a full 3-wood. I kind of had to finesse one in there and blocked it right. But Austin was in the [greenside] bunker. We ended up halving the hole [with birdies].”
McCarthy is unsure the markers will be moved forward during the final two days of match play. It all depends on the wind conditions.
The players will just have to be on alert and keep their thinking caps on.
Carrying the Brothers Banner
Of the nine sides featuring brother tandems that started the championship, Jason and Ryan Higton, of Fresno, Calif., are the last ones standing following their 5-and-4 victory over Brad Nurski and Skip Berkmeyer in the Round of 32.
For 32-year-old Ryan, the run to the Round of 16 is exciting, given that this is his first USGA championship. Jason, 35, has qualified for two U.S. Mid-Amateurs, a U.S. Amateur and a U.S. Junior Amateur. But both have been frequent partners in local and regional events.
“Our dad started us when were 3,” said Ryan, who grew up playing San Joaquin Country Club, site of the 2001 U.S. Mid-Amateur. “We played a lot of soccer and baseball growing up. [Jason] started playing golf in high school and I followed.”
Both Higtons played college golf – Jason at the University of the Pacific, and Ryan at The Master’s College in Newhall, Calif., where he was an NAIA All-American. Jason, now an orthopedic sales representative for Johnson & Johnson, briefly tried professional golf after graduating in 2002 before regaining his amateur status in 2007. Ryan, a real estate investor, never turned pro.
The two have always been close and said they never fought about anything.
“He was always nice to me,” said Ryan. “Older brothers usually beat up their younger brothers, but he always included me with his friends.”
On Tuesday morning, the brothers face Hawaiian teens Kyle Suppa and Kyosuke Hara in the Round of 16.
Hara is an Ace
If a 165-yard tee shot goes in the hole and no one sees it, is it still a hole-in-one?
Yes, and it was a memorable one for Kyosuke Hara, even though neither he nor his partner, Kyle Suppa, saw the ball reach its destination. The par-3 15th hole is slightly uphill and its putting surface is obscured by the front greenside bunkers.
“I didn’t really think it was in at all,” said Hara, who used an 8-iron for the shot. “Kyle and I both thought it was pretty good, and someone else told us it went in. I couldn’t believe it.”
While it was Hara’s third hole-in-one, it was his first in competition, and it came at a very opportune time. He and Suppa, both 16-year-olds from Honolulu and the youngest side in the championship, were holding a 1-up lead over veteran competitors Roger Hoit and 2004 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Austin Eaton III. They followed up the ace with a birdie on the par-5 16th hole to close out the match, 3 and 2.
Displaying the camaraderie seen throughout the week here at the Olympic Club, Hoit and Eaton couldn’t help but congratulate their young opponent.
“They gave me high-fives and said ‘good job’ but I was still in shock,” said Hara. “I was pretty happy, though.”
Hara and Suppa will try to carry the excitement of their victory against the Higton brothers in Tuesday morning’s Round of 16.
Odds And Ends
John and Andrew Sajevic, the last remaining father/son side, were eliminated by Zach Atkinson and Jeff Edmondson, 3 and 2…The other brother side to qualify for match play, Benjamin and Daniel Day, lost to Ryan McCarthy and Patrick McCormick, 2 and 1…Fox Sports 1 will televise the final two days of the championship from 7 to 9:30 p.m. EDT…Four of the 16 matches in the Round of 32 reached the 18th hole, with only one going extra holes.