U.S. AMATEUR FOUR-BALL
Teamwork Essence of Four-Ball Competition
May 26, 2017
By Bill Fields and David Chmiel
Webster’s defines teamwork as the combined action of a group of people, especially when effective and efficient. In most cases, golf is not a team effort. Most championships, including those conducted by the USGA, are decided by individuals.
But the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball and U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball championships require a partnership. They provide a rare opportunity for two individuals to come together to win a national championship. Certainly, it takes skill to succeed at these high-level competitions, but other intangibles such as chemistry, communication and strategy play an enormous role.
We sampled several golfers competing in this week’s Four-Ball championships at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club and The Dunes Golf & Beach Club to get their thoughts on teamwork and why their partnership works. That group includes defending U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball champions Kaitlyn Papp and Hailee Cooper, along with USGA champions Scott Harvey (2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur) and Doug Hanzel (2013 U.S. Senior Amateur).
It also includes the father-son team of Mike and Mike Riley, and 2016 USA Curtis Cup competitor Bailey Tardy, who is teaming with 2017 NCAA Division I individual champion Monica Vaughn, who played with Tardy in last year’s Curtis Cup Match in Ireland.
What makes a good team?
Doug Hanzel (partnering with Bob Royak): Number 1, you’ve got to get along. Similar personalities on the course helps. You want to play with a good player, and Bob’s a good player.
Bailey Tardy (partnering with Monica Vaughn): We have fun. Even when we are down in a match, it's easy to make each other laugh.
Michael Riley Jr. (partnering with his father, also named Mike): If your partner is going down a negative road, you can help him. It’s kind of like having a caddie except you’re playing with the person.
Scott Harvey (partnering with 2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up Todd Mitchell): You both have to think the same on the course. You can’t have one guy who is overanalyzing everything and the other guy freewheeling. I think you have to have similar personalities.
Todd White (partnering with four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith): Nathan and I are both very competitive. We know each person is trying his best. We never say, ‘I’m sorry,’ because we know we’re giving everything we have on every shot. There is no need to say that. We’re there for one purpose: to win the whole thing.
Royak: If you know each other’s game and get along really well, that’s important. There are always going to be spots where you leave the other guy hanging, and you’ve got to brush those things off and move on. Doug’s won numerous events. To know your partner’s got your back, that makes it easy.
Hailee Cooper (partnering with Kaitlyn Papp): What makes a good team is chemistry and trust. K.P. and I are very good friends and it definitely showed in our performance and our fight last year at this tournament.
Todd Mitchell: Most of the teams are [comprised of] very good friends and play a lot of golf together. In our case, that’s not true because we live 12 hours apart (Mitchell in Bloomington, Ill., and Harvey in Greensboro, N.C.). But I think it’s a good mix and understanding of how the other person plays and being comfortable with each other. I know Scott’s going to play solid. My job is to be comfortable and play like I know how and not try to do too much. We get along very well.
Nathan Smith: You have to ham-and -gg it in better-ball. Hang in there, maybe scramble for a par. Cover for each other – if somebody is out of a hole, hang in there.
Papp: Team chemistry is key to having a good team. Talent helps a lot, but communication is one of the most important things.
How did you pick each other as partners?
Harvey: When they announced they were going to have this championship, we called each other and talked about playing. It was pretty simple. We’re an example of how an event like this can create a lifelong friendship.
Cooper: Kaitlyn and I have been friends for a long time, and we thought a four-ball event would be fun.
Mike Riley Sr.: I’m just lucky that he picked me. He could have probably found somebody better if he had looked hard enough.
Tardy: We were Curtis Cup partners and had a really good time there [in Ireland].
Papp: I asked Hailee to be my partner because we have been friends for many years. We have been playing in tournaments together since we were about 13 years old and have become really good friends.
Hanzel: I’ve known Bob for years from Georgia state events, and we decided to team up for the four-ball.
White: As members of the 2013 [USA] Walker Cup Team, we got to know each other really well. As soon as the announcement about the Four-Ball was made, I called Nathan and said, ‘Hey, we might have a shot at this.’ To win the inaugural title is still a little surreal, to know that however long this tournament exists, we’re going to be the first names on the trophy.
Royak: We knew each other through Georgia State Golf Association events. We had been paired a few times together. We paired up in the state four-ball going back 10 years ago. When this event began, we said, ‘Let’s do it.’
Is being familiar with your partner’s game a plus?
Harvey: Sure. It’s like having a caddie. You can get some insight on every shot, every putt. It’s like having someone else in your corner.
Papp: Having familiarity is very important. It's hard to play well as a team if you keep to yourself and don't have good chemistry or teamwork.
Hanzel: Personalities are the most important thing, but it’s nice if you know their game because there are decisions out there – when if you’re unsure – that if someone knows your game – can sometimes help you on club selection or how to play a hole.
Riley Sr.: I know his swing. He knows mine. If you see something going wrong, it’s pretty easy to spot. We know each other’s tendencies and can diagnose each other.
Cooper: It definitely helps to have a friend as a teammate. They can help pump you up, and it gives you someone else to fight for.
Do you take a different approach for match play vs. stroke play?
Tardy: For me, I usually just play like I'm playing a normal round. Obviously, there could be a time where you have to be aggressive, but I don't really do anything differently.
Hanzel: I don’t think so. Match play is different, but you still have to play the course. I don’t think there’s a big change in strategy.
Harvey: No. If we were playing a course that was only 6,500 yards with birdie opportunities everywhere, you might be able to adjust. But at Pinehurst, even playing best ball, par’s a good score on every hole.
Riley Sr.: Obviously, in match play you need to be more aggressive than stroke play.
Mitchell: No, but a lot of times in match play the flow of the match dictates how you play. In any USGA event, the toughest part is the stroke play. You know you have to shoot a number and can’t give away too many shots. In stroke play, you try to settle into the round. In match play, it’s ‘go time’ from the first tee shot.
Cooper: Match play has a much more intense feel, and I play the course differently than I would if it was stroke play. The more aggressive shots become the usual and luckily I have a great partner to back me up.
Greg Earnhardt (partnering with Sherrill Britt; they were runners-up in 2015): Absolutely. In match play, you don’t even think score. You have a tendency to loosen up and hit more aggressive shots. You don’t worry as much about where not to hit it because the worst you can do is lose one hole.
Smith: A little bit. If someone is hitting before you and they stick one tight, you’re going to have to be more aggressive. Match play does change things, especially on par 3s and par 5s.
Is one more aggressive than the other? And do you plan that or just play it by ear?
Papp: It's kind of situational when it comes to being aggressive. If we are both in good position, we will have one hit a good shot near the flag, good enough for par and the other attack more. The name of the game is avoiding bogeys.
Cooper: K.P. and I always discuss our play if we are going to be extra aggressive on a shot. It all depends on the situation.
Hanzel: I hit it maybe a little longer, so I might be a bit more aggressive than Bob on the par 5s, but we’re fairly compatible and consistent.
Riley Sr.: My son is probably 40 to 50 yards longer than me off the tee and he can hit it straight up in the air and land it on some of these greens. I’m going to just try to get it on the green, but he can kind of hunt the flag when he has a shorter club in his hand.
Tardy: I think we are both aggressive players. We hit the ball far so it allows us to go at flags with shorter irons.
How do you pick who is team spokesperson for Rules issues or giving putts, etc?
Harvey: That’s a great question, given what happened with Suzann Pettersen in the Solheim Cup situation two years ago [against Alison Lee]. I’m good with whatever he does, and he’s good with whatever I do. We don’t think twice about it.
Papp: Neither of us are really the spokesperson of the team. We both have a quick discussion so that we both agree with concessions and other rulings. Hailee and I kind of take turns when we communicate our decisions to our [opponents].
Hanzel: If there are questions, there is a discussion before a decision is made. But we’re both pretty low-key guys, so I don't think it’s a big deal.
Smith: We kind of give each other ‘the look.’ Usually, we kind of agree on everything. But whoever is around the hole, you never want to leave an opponent hanging on whether it’s being conceded or not.
Cooper: K.P. and I always talk about it and discuss rulings and giving putts as a team.
White: The two times we’ve played in this, he’s given putts and I’ve given putts. There has never been a question about a concession. There is that familiarity between us.
Mitchell: For the most part, I think we agree on things. That comes with the experience of playing a lot of USGA events. Sometimes we talk about it. Scott normally deals with the Rules officials. I usually let him do that.
What makes you good teammates?
Tardy: Monica is the sister I never had. We just get along and have a good time. After all, we are playing golf in Myrtle Beach together ... it's hard to beat that.
Papp: We both have easygoing personalities which helps make us a good team. We've been on several teams together (Wyndham Cup, Junior Solheim Cup, Junior Ryder Cup) so we both understand each other and know each other’s games pretty well. Also, over the past couple years, we have also played a lot of high school golf together, which has helped our friendship.
White: With Nathan, I know because of his short game, he’s never out of any hole.
Riley Sr.: If you know each other’s game well, that helps. Our team, I’m basically in charge of pars and he’s in charge of birdies because he hits it about 50 yards farther than I do.
Royak: It’s golf and stuff happens. Don’t start saying you’re sorry if miss a 4-footer or something like that. That’s golf. Don’t worry about it.
Is it possible to overthink things?
Hanzel: Absolutely. I tend not to read his putts and he tends not to read mine unless either is confused and has a question. We see a lot of guys talking back and forth, and by the time they hit the putt they’re so wrapped up in things they can’t perform. Knowledge is good, but it can be overwhelming.
Cooper: It is definitely possible to overthink things in the heat of the moment. I can think of times last year in this tournament when both K.P. and I overthought the simplest shots.
Riley Sr.: The big thing is to assume your opponent is going to hit a good shot or make a putt. Then you just get happy if he doesn’t. You don’t want to be surprised by anything.
Mitchell: You have to go out and relax and play. Sometimes things are dictated by what your partner is doing, but most of the time you need to play your own game.
Riley Jr.: It’s possible. A lot of the Ryder Cup guys say they basically try to play their own game. Unless something drastic happens, that’s what you should try to do.
Papp: It definitely is possible. The most difficult part about playing good golf is trying to stay in the moment and not get ahead of yourself. Luckily, Hailee and I are good about staying in the moment. Our dads are our caddies as well, and they definitely help us with that.
Tardy: Definitely, but I think that's what makes a good player. If you can handle the heat, you can handle anything.
Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who contributes frequently to USGA websites. David Chmiel is manager of members content for the USGA.