As the first round of stroke play began on Saturday in the 2nd U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship, Rachel Sadowski, the championship director, took a look back – and forward – and was pleased with what she saw.
“I think this format really encourages people to play who would have never played in a USGA championship,” said Sadowski. “We’ve got a ton of new faces, which is really great to see.”
The USGA inaugurated the Amateur Four-Ball and Women’s Amateur Four-Ball in 2015 to provide a national championship for two-player sides, a format that is extremely popular at both the club, and the state and regional levels.
“Just look at the sides that we have competing: past and present college teammates, sisters, a mother-daughter side,” said Sadowski. “Looking at the future of golf, if you can make competing fun but still have that competitive spirit, I think it’s everything that we strive for in our amateur championships.”
The Women’s Amateur Four-Ball was played for the first time last May at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon, and Mika Liu, 16, and Rinko Mitsunaga, 18, earned an impressive 4-and-3 victory over Hannah O’Sullivan and Robynn Ree. The winners played the 15 holes of the championship match in 8 under par. Mitsunaga, now a freshman at the University of Georgia, and Liu, a member of the 2016 USA Curtis Cup Team, did not enter this year’s championship.
“There were so many unknowns last year, and yet we couldn’t have had a better outcome than we did,” said Sadowski. “I’ve never seen a field more excited for a championship – we really hit a home run at Bandon Dunes.”
The number of entries for 2016 (331 sides) rivaled the 336 teams for 2015, and the average age of competitors went from 33.7 last year to 24.6, a figure that Sadowski expects to see fluctuate in the coming years, based on the championship calendar.
“Having the young champions last year encouraged a lot of younger participants,” said Sadowski. “And the NCAA Championship is happening right now, which took out a lot of players who are college golfers. Next year, we will be a week later, on Memorial Day weekend, and I expect that we will have a bigger college group playing.”
The 2017 championship is scheduled for May 27-31, at The Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C., while the 2018 championship will be played April 28-May 2 at El Caballero Country Club, in Tarzana, Calif., a full month earlier.
“We’re likely to see more mid-amateurs and senior amateurs in 2018, because the juniors are going to still be in school,” said Sadowski. “I think the dates are going to impact entries more than anything. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
One challenge the USGA Four-Ball events face is that entries close the previous calendar year. The deadline to enter the 2017 U.S. Women’s Four-Ball Championship is Aug. 10 of this year. Sectional qualifying begins on Aug. 24 and runs through April 17 of next year.
“It’s still an issue, people forgetting that they have to sign up this year for next year’s championship and setting their schedules that far in advance,” said Sadowski. “But we need that window of time because it’s a spring championship and we have to allow for qualifying in every part of the country. Hopefully, they are starting to get used to it.”
Sadowski sees several encouraging aspects to the championship in Year 2.
“I know we have fewer players on the women’s side than on the men’s side, and something like this is exactly what’s needed,” she said. “We need to remind those players who played junior and college golf and might not know what’s next that there is a way to enjoy golf and not have as much pressure as you would competing by yourself. With the partners sometimes being joined by two caddies, you get a real team feeling.”
Some of the partners enhance the team vibe by dressing identically. The championship camaraderie was most evident last year when players took to the enormous Punchbowl green at Bandon Dunes for an informal putting contest after the second round of stroke play.
“We were waiting for scores to come in, and the players enjoyed seeing who advanced and finding out the match-play draw,” said Sadowski. “We also had girls out there who knew they weren’t going to make the cut, but were still making the most of the experience of being in a national championship.”
Sadowski, 30, a native of Colchester, England, who played college golf at Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach, hopes to build on that buzz in the coming years.
“We’ve got great facilities to get us started, and Myrtle Beach on Memorial Day weekend is going to be a lot of fun,” she said. “Being 20 minutes from my old campus, I hope to see some fellow alumni out there.”
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.