A Four-Ball Primer May 1, 2015 | San Francisco By David Shefter, USGA

Four-Ball is a format that is used in the Curtis Cup Match, where Ally McDonald (left) and Alison Lee helped the USA to victory in 2014. (USGA/Chris Keane)

While the term four-ball might sound unfamiliar to golfers, the format itself is as common as morning dew shining on fairways. Many call it better-ball or the grammatically challenged best-ball, but if you drop by any course – whether it be private, public or a resort – you’ll likely see it being played by virtually every group.

And for state and regional golf associations as well as a host of leagues and clubs, four-ball competitions have long been on competition calendars. This format also has been utilized at the Ryder and Solheim Cups.

But until 2015, the USGA had not conducted a four-ball championship. Until now, when the USGA conducts the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball and U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championships in consecutive weeks at The Olympic Club in San Francisco and Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon, respectively. The U.S. Amateur Four-Ball is set for May 2-6, followed by the Women’s Amateur Four-Ball May 9-13.

Infographic: Inside the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball

So how does four-ball work?

Each team or side is comprised of two players – although one player can constitute a side – and unlike foursomes (alternate shot) they each play their own ball and the lower score among the side is counted for each hole. So if Player A scores a 5 and Player B scores a 4, the side’s score is a 4.

At these two championships, each side will play 36 holes of stroke play to reduce the field – 128 teams for the men and 64 for the women – down to the lowest 32 for match play. In the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, 18 holes will be played on the Lake Course and 18 on the Ocean Course, while the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball will take place entirely on the Pacific Dunes Course at Bandon Dunes Resort. Like other USGA championships, the match-play draw will be seeded according to stroke-play scores.

Match play is scheduled to be contested over the final three days to determine a national champion.

The Rules for four-ball are essentially the same for both stroke and match play with a few nuances; one being teammates and their caddies can offer advice to each other, something not seen in a singles match.

The team aspect is what makes four-ball such a popular format among recreational and elite golfers. And now, the USGA has a national championship to support it. Judging by the high number of entries for both championships and the strong interest among players from across the country, they are welcome additions to the USGA’s portfolio of national championships.

David Shefter is the USGA’s senior writer. Email him at

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