U.S. AMATEUR FOUR-BALL
Round One of Stroke Play: Five Storylines May 27, 2017 | Village of Pinehurst, N.C. By David Shefter, USGA

David Noll Jr. is thrilled to be able to compete in this year's Four-Ball Championship with partner Cameron Hooper. (USGA/Chris Keane)

U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Home

The 3rd U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship commences on Saturday at the Pinehurst Resort & Country Club with 128 sides (256) playing 36 holes of stroke play – 18 holes each on Course No. 2 and Course No. 8 – to determine the final 32 sides that will qualify for match play starting on Monday at Course No. 2.

Once again, the field is diverse with teenagers, collegians, mid-amateurs and seniors. There are three father/son and three brother tandems as well as a number of current and former college teammates.

Here are five interesting storylines going into the first round of play:

Two For One

Two years ago, David Noll Jr. and his partner, Cameron Hooper, were looking forward to competing in the inaugural championship at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. But a few days before the competition, Noll was involved in a freak accident. A tool box in his truck fell and struck his thumb, resulting in nerve damage that required 32 stitches.

Instead of withdrawing, Hooper elected to play solo, which is permissible under four-ball rules. Despite his best effort, he missed the cut.

But the Georgia duo is getting a second chance this week after qualifying last October.

“I told him our team is 100 percent better,” said Hooper, 29, of Atlanta, who became friends with the 45-year-old Dalton through Georgia State Golf Association events.

Dalton owns a fire-protection business, where he installs sprinklers and fire alarms, which requires the use of a lot of tools.

Added Hooper: “I told him a couple of weeks before [the championship], ‘Dude, just stop working.’ ”

“It’s real work,” said Dalton, smiling at his partner who is a financial advisor.

Noll, of Dalton, Ga., fully recovered from the injury by the fall of 2015, qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Amateur at John’s Island Club in October.

And, now he’s at Pinehurst No. 2, where he won the Managers Association Club Championship in 2003. It was a short-lived event, but Noll did have a photograph taken with the trophy next to the statue of the late Payne Stewart behind the 18th green. Stewart won the 1999 U.S. Open before perishing in a plane crash four months later.

Hooper, who roomed with reigning U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson while on the golf team at Coastal Carolina, tried to obtain the yardage book he used in the 2014 U.S. Open, only to discover it was never returned after the current world No. 1 lent it to two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Danielle Kang for the U.S. Women’s Open the following week. Austin Johnson, Dustin’s brother and caddie, had taken copious notes on the course.

“He just said play conservatively,” said Hooper of Dustin’s advice on playing Course No. 2.

Noll has a different approach. “It’s a four-ball,” he said. “Hit it as hard as you can and go find it. If you mess up, you’ve got a partner.”

This year, it’s a healthy one.

The U.S. Amateur Four-Ball is a family affair for Bobby Leopold (above), who is teaming up with brother-in-law Tyler Cooke at Pinehurst. (USGA/Chris Keane) 

All in the Family

Bobby Leopold was never concerned with upsetting the family dynamic when he asked his brother-in-law, Tyler Cooke, to be his four-ball partner. Ever since he met Tyler’s sister, Taylor, 14 years ago, the two have become close. Cooke’s father, Scott, is even serving as Leopold’s caddie this week.

In fact, the families rented a seven-bedroom house  in Pinehurst to accommodate its cheering section. Leopold’s wife of eight years was scheduled to arrive Friday with the couple’s two young sons: Grayson (4) and Rhys (17 months). Leopold’s parents flew in from England and Tyler Cooke’s aunt and uncle came down from New Jersey. His girlfriend is also here as is another close friend from St. Louis, Andrew Pranger, who arrived Friday to caddie.

Leopold, 32, of Coventry, R.I., and Cooke, 25, of Warwick, R.I., decided to qualify for the Four-Ball after dominating their state event the past two years. In 2015, they shot 59-60 (24 under). While this is Cooke’s first-ever USGA start, Leopold is a veteran of “14 or 15.” In the 2011 U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills, site of this year’s U.S. Open, Leopold eliminated medalist Gregor Main in the Round of 64, and 2011 USA Walker Cup competitor and now PGA Tour player Harris English in the Round of 32 before losing in extra holes to Jordan Russell.

He could get another crack at Erin Hills next month after advancing to the sectional stage of qualifying for a second time. The first alternate from that site? Cooke.

“Maybe I could just take him out,” joked Cooke about getting into sectionals if Leopold somehow had to withdraw.

All kidding aside, Leopold said the two have great on-course chemistry because his steadiness allows the long-hitting Cooke to take a more aggressive approach.

“Together we’re a good team,” said Leopold. “I can give him some comfort [to be aggressive] and make some birdies.”

Familiar Territory

One would be hard-pressed to find anyone in this year’s field who has played Pinehurst more than Don Padgett III. Padgett’s grandfather was the director of golf from 1987-2002, and his father served as the resort’s president from 2004-14. Padgett III, 42, of Akron, Ohio, who is partnering with fellow Ohioan Daniel Belden, of Massillon, estimated he’s played Course No. 2 at least 150 times.

“Pinehurst has always been a second home to me,” said Padgett, who serves as the executive director for the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. “No. 2 is my all-time favorite golf course, and there are a lot of sentimental memories there with my grandpa. It’s just a really special place. I always enjoy going back there.”

Padgett’s most treasured memory came in the 1997 North & South Amateur. Back then, a playoff was held for those tying for first during the stroke play portion of the competition. After an eight-hole playoff, Padgett prevailed and was awarded the coveted Putter Boy Trophy.

“That’s something I always wanted to get,” said Padgett. “I was playing as hard as I could in the playoff. I still have the Putter Boy on the mantle in my family room. That’s probably my favorite trophy I’ve won."

Perhaps he’ll add to that trophy collection during his “homecoming” this week.

Making Their Pitch

Erik Hanson might not be a household name to some, but the 52-year-old Kirkland, Wash., resident spent 10 seasons in the major leagues pitching for Seattle, Cincinnati, Toronto and Boston, making an All-Star Game appearance in 1995 during his one season with the Red Sox. After retiring in 1998, Hanson went from being competitive on the diamond to playing high-level amateur golf. He’s qualified for multiple U.S. Mid-Amateurs, one U.S. Senior Open and represented Washington five times in the USGA Men’s State Team Championship.

Now he’s making his first U.S. Amateur Four-Ball appearance with partner Ben Garrett, of Seattle.

There’s also another well-known baseball name in the field: Cy Young. But he’s not related to the all-time winningest pitcher whose name adorns the trophy given annually to the best pitcher in the American and National Leagues. Young, who is partnering with fellow Jackson, Tenn., resident John Slayton, said on his media bio that his father was a big baseball fan.

But around Pinehurst, Young, 34, will need to show off his ability to pitch … the golf ball that is.

Hockey Guy

The National Hockey League has provided some thrilling playoff moments the past two months, but Garrett Rank has not been a part of it. Rank, 29, of Canada, just finished his first full season as an on-ice NHL referee. But as a rookie, he did not get any postseason assignments, giving him more time to prepare for the Four-Ball with partner Patrick Christovich, of New Orleans. Last year, the two advanced to the semifinals. Rank, the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up, has won the last three Canadian Mid-Amateurs. Christovich is also a USGA veteran, having advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur.

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