U.S. AMATEUR FOUR-BALL
Notebook: Red-eye Flights, Great Vibes and Sectional Hopes May 6, 2015 | San Francisco By David Shefter, USGA

South Carolina high school history teacher Todd White made some history of his own at this week's U.S. Amateur Four-Ball. (USGA/Darren Carroll) 

Sometime on Thursday morning, a bleary-eyed Todd White will arrive at Spartanburg (S.C.) High School for his U.S. Government class. The 47-year-old might be exhausted from a week of walking the Olympic Club, but at least he’ll have a nice story to tell his students and fellow faculty members.

After all, making USGA history isn’t commonplace.

White teamed with Nathan Smith to claim the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship on Wednesday with an impressive 7-and-5 victory over North Carolinians Sherrill Britt and Greg Earnhardt.

This was Smith’s fifth USGA championship to go along with his record-four U.S. Mid-Amateur titles. But this was White’s first. That makes the red-eye flight home Wednesday night with a gold medal in tow extra special.

It also should give White extra clout with his principal, who graciously allows him to use his vacation days during the school year to play competitive golf.

“He’s a pretty good golfer,” said White of his boss, Jeff Stevens. “Most of my students don’t play golf and don’t know much about golf. A lot of times they’ll ask me, ‘When do you have another tournament?’ And I know they are asking me because they want a substitute.”

In fact, White doesn’t discuss golf much with his students. He didn’t discuss the history of concessions or past U.S. Open champions at the Olympic Club.

But not long after White and Smith received the trophy on the 13th green, one student tweeted:  “That’s my teacher [on Fox Sports 1].”

White said the lesson for his students will be “that hard work pays off. I’ll direct them to the [USGA] website so they can look at what’s going on. But hopefully they see first-hand that hard work and perseverance do pay off.”

And for White, many years of practice and playing USGA events, including the 2013 Walker Cup, where he and Smith were teammates along with eight other elite amateurs, finally paid off. When USGA Executive Committee member Mark Reinemann, chairman of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, put the gold medal around his neck, White felt a sense of accomplishment.

“Great satisfaction,” said White. “It will probably hit me when I wake up in the Atlanta airport [Thursday morning].”

Anchors Away

Greg Earnhardt figured he was going to switch his putting style in seven months when the ban on anchored putting strokes (Rule 14-1b) goes into effect, so why not get an early head start? A few weeks ago, he replaced his long putter for one that has a longer grip, allowing him to lean the handle on his left arm. It’s a grip also utilized by 1997 U.S. Amateur champion and PGA Tour pro Matt Kuchar.

In Wednesday’s semifinal, Earnhardt put on a brilliant putting display, converting clutch putts at Nos. 13, 17 and 18 to allow him and Sherrill Britt to extend their match with Scott Harvey and Todd Mitchell into extra holes. Earnhardt closed it out with a 6-footer on No. 19 (par-4 ninth on the Lake Course).

Worn Out

Both finalists were quite happy to get inside the clubhouse and sit down after a marathon week of golf. Earnhardt, 46, had bandages wrapped around both feet from blisters, and even joked that he was going to go barefoot on the plane ride home. Neither Earnhardt nor the 49-year-old Britt used fatigue as an excuse.

“In no way would I say the reason we lost is because we’re old and tired and bandaged,” said Earnhardt. “They’re both great players and great people.”

Said Britt: “If we played them 10 times, we might beat them twice.” 

Fun Times

Both semifinal losers on Wednesday commented just how much they enjoyed this team format for a national championship.

“We didn’t meet our expectations and it’s sad in that regard that we don’t have another tee time,” said Todd Mitchell, who partnered with reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Scott Harvey. “We’ve had a lot of fun. I think we’re a total team. It’s one of the most enjoyable experiences that I have had on the golf course.”

Austin Connelly, who partnered with fellow 18-year-old Sam Burns agreed. “It’s one of the best weeks I’ve ever had playing golf.”

The finalists also could see the event only growing in future years.

“I think you are going to see even more entries,” said Britt. “Todd White is a great player. Scott Harvey is a great player. They can go win U.S. Ams and win U.S. Mid-Ams, and I don’t think we can, but we can compete in this event.”

Added White: “I think the event carries the mantra of the USGA, ‘For the Good of the Game.’ This event is good for the game.”

Bag Relief

Earnhardt and Britt carried their own bags through the two practice rounds, two stroke-play rounds and four match-play rounds, but they got a little relief for the final. Olympic Club members Brad Anderson and Eric Cresta offered their services and the two accepted. Cresta was the standard bearer for the side’s semifinal match and noticed the situation. Anderson carried for Earnhardt and Cresta for Britt.

Next Up, Chambers Bay?

Five of the eight semifinalists are exempt into sectional qualifying for this year’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Sam Burns, Austin Connelly, Nathan Smith, Todd White and Scott Harvey will be involved in 36-hole qualifiers on June 8. Burns and Connelly were exempt by being among the top 50 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ at the close of entries. White and Smith were exempt by being playing members of the 2013 USA Walker Cup Team (Smith also earned an exemption for being a 2014 U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist), while Harvey is exempt for winning the 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur.

Only White has previously qualified for a U.S. Open. He missed the cut in 1995 at Shinnecock Hills. Smith and Harvey have played in a combined five Masters (four for Smith, one for Harvey).

Back on the Bag

Quarterfinalist James Edmondson took a red-eye to Florida Tuesday night to be back at his full-time gig as caddie for PGA Tour player Ryan Palmer. Palmer is in this week’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass (Stadium Course). Edmondson hoped to arrive in Ponte Vedra in time to be with his boss for his final preparations on Wednesday.

Had Edmondson and partner Zach Atkinson advanced to Wednesday’s semifinals, he might have had a logistical issue trying to make it to the Jacksonville area for Palmer’s scheduled 7:46 a.m. starting time. He told Golfweek’s Jeff Babineau that he “would cross that bridge later” if he had advanced.

That, of course, didn’t happen.

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

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