Greg Earnhardt gingerly walked barefoot into the player’s lounge inside the Olympic Club’s spacious clubhouse late Tuesday afternoon. Fatigue was written all over his body.
He revealed two bloodied socks, a physical reminder of the grueling week it’s been on the 46-year-old North Carolinian.
Neither Earnhardt nor Sherrill Britt, his partner at this week’s inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, are accustomed to this much walking. USGA championships are often tests of endurance as well as skill, and the oldest remaining side – combined ages of 95 – was showing some wear and tear after a seventh round in six days.
“I hurt,” said Earnhardt after the side’s 2-and-1 quarterfinal win over Draegen Majors and Brooks Price. “I played all day bleeding. My feet were just hurting. I think I might use the Jacuzzi in the locker room.”
Britt, 49, of West End, N.C., joked that he was going to jump in nearby Lake Merced and take a swim.
Both seemed ready for a good night’s sleep. And they’ll need to be refreshed for their 7 a.m. semifinal match against reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Scott Harvey, of Greensboro, N.C., and Todd Mitchell, of Bloomington, Ill.
“We get to play our buddy tomorrow,” said Earnhardt. “Harvey’s the man. He lives 10 minutes from me. We could have stayed at home [and played]. We could have flown Todd down … and played it at Sedgefield [Country Club in Greensboro], and saved everybody some money.”
In essence, Britt and Earnhardt exemplify the true spirit of the Four-Ball. Neither plays a year-long schedule of national amateur or mid-amateur events, so they look forward to USGA qualifiers as a way to compete on a larger stage.
“We’re city guys who play public courses,” said Earnhardt.
Earnhardt, an insurance agent for the North Carolina Farm Bureau, is a veteran of two U.S. Amateurs, two U.S. Amateur Public Links and a USGA Men’s State Team. Britt, a custom homes contractor, qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur two years ago, 12 years after his only other USGA championship appearance at the 2001 U.S. Amateur.
But as partners, their only success came at a four-ball event at Mid-Pines. Britt couldn’t recall the year.
“At home, we usually take other guys [as partners],” said Britt. “But I thought we were a little stronger team for this [championship].”
Twenty-eight years ago, Britt caught the golf bug working at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, where employees could play for $3. In 1988 he decided to become a club professional, but 10 years in the business was enough. He applied for amateur reinstatement in 1999 and his first amateur event was the 2000 North and South at Pinehurst No. 2. He lost to James Driscoll, the runner-up in that year’s U.S. Amateur, 1 up, in the first round.
It gave him the itch to keep playing. Even with his contracting business, Britt manages to play four to five afternoons a week.
“I try to make sure my hobby doesn’t get in the way of my golf,” said Britt with a laugh.
While Earnhardt was born about 10 miles from the famous NASCAR family of the same name, he doesn’t believe he’s related to Dale or Dale Jr.
“Maybe I am, but I haven’t seen any of the money,” he cracked.
Earnhardt discovered golf at 17 and would be considered a late bloomer. He, too, turned professional after graduating from Campbell University in 1994, but regained his amateur status four years later.
Now USGA championships are circled on his calendar.
“I put the U.S. Open on another level, but my goal is to play in every USGA event,” he said.
That meant filing an entry for the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball. Neither player recalls who made first contact, but Britt knew Earnhardt’s game was strong enough for the side to have a shot to play at the Olympic Club. Two months ago at Pinewild C.C. in Pinehurst, Earnhardt’s two-putt par on 18 sealed a 66, good enough to make a 3-for-2 playoff for the final spots.
Before starting the playoff, a nervous Earnhardt informed Britt that he would need to make birdie.
“I told him probably the best thing that could ever happen is the other team birdies [the hole] and saves us about four grand coming here,” said Britt, whose side birdied to secure the last spot. “Now I’m glad we [qualified].”
Going to the Bullpen
Nathan Smith and Todd White each carried their own bags during their Round-of-16 victory Tuesday morning over Austin Smotherman and Bryson DeChambeau. Looking for a little relief, both employed caddies in the afternoon quarterfinals.
White employed Cordie Morgan, a good friend from Spartanburg, S.C., who now resides in the Bay Area, while Smith borrowed DeChambeau’s caddie, Tony Yick.
Tough Day for the Mustangs
Golfers from Southern Methodist University have had mixed results at the Olympic Club. SMU alum Payne Stewart was the runner-up to Lee Janzen after missing a short putt in the 1998 U.S. Open, while Colt Knost won the 2007 U.S. Amateur. Former Mustangs Draegen Majors and Brooks Price were hoping to add their names to club lore, but after knocking out the medalists, Viraat Badhwar and Maverick McNealy, in the Round of 16, they fell to Britt and Earnhardt in the quarterfinals.
Northern California natives and current SMU juniors Austin Smotherman and Bryson DeChambeau were eliminated by White and Smith, 2 and 1, in the Round of 16.
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.