Furman Teammates Totland, Chen Enjoying Final Ride Together May 27, 2017 | MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. By Tom Cunneff

Furman University teammates Taylor Totland (left) and Alice Chen have been playing together for 10 years. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

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Alice Chen was practicing her putting on the green of the par-3 17th at The Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C., when her friend and college teammate, Taylor Totland, asked her a question from the side of the green.

“Hey, Al,” Totland shouted. “How old were you when we played for the first time together?”

“Ten,” Chen shot back. Noted Totland with a shrug of the shoulders: “Here we are 11 years later.”

“Here” is the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship. Between the time they first teed it up in a junior event together and today’s opening round of stroke play, the two New Jersey natives have become like sisters while whipping most of the competition along the way.

Totland, 22, of Tinton Falls, won the state high school title in 2012, while Chen, 21, of Princeton, won the title the next two years. They have also split the last four New Jersey State Golf Association Women’s Amateur titles with one typically beating the other in the semifinals or finals. And as teammates the last three years at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., they have nearly identical scoring averages – 73.3 and 73.5, respectively.

“They’re both great ball-strikers,” said Furman coach Jeff Hull. “They hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens. When they play with each other or against each other, they tend to play great. In the finals of the New Jersey state championship last year, they made like 10 or 11 birdies in their match.”

Chen followed Totland to Furman after the duo fell in love with the campus and program while playing an American Junior Golf Association tournament on Furman's golf course. But through all the years playing junior, high school and college golf together, the pair have never played as four-ball partners until now, although they have each played in about a half-dozen USGA amateur championships.

“We’re excited,” said Chen, who played on the victorious New Jersey team in the 2013 USGA Women’s State Team Championship. “It’ll be fun because we do a good job of keeping each other relaxed and just having a good time. When you have fun, you play your best.”

They certainly feel a lot more at ease – not to mention warmer – in sunny South Carolina. It was a tough slog last week at the NCAA Division I Championships at Rich Harvest Farms near Chicago, where it was rainy, windy and cold – the Paladins finished 12th.

“No jackets, no rain pants, there's a beach,” said Totland with a big smile on Friday. “I will be at the beach right after our 7 a.m. tee time [Saturday]. It's so relaxing here.”

Added Chen: “The rough was so difficult in Chicago, so we're really prepped. I feel a lot better about this course. We were hitting long irons and hybrids into every hole last week, but now we have a lot more short irons, so I'm like, ‘Yeah, we got this.’ It's very comforting.”

Indeed, the duo came out strong in their opening round, making five birdies on the outward nine and shooting a 66 to lead after the morning wave.

“We knew going into the Four-Ball that they would do well because they’re very relaxed playing with each other,” said Hull. “They both have their dads on their bags this week with no pressure of school. There’s just a huge comfort level right now. They’re two of the best players in the country and when you put them together, they’re tough to beat.”

Their games – like their personalities – really complement one another. Totland, or “Tot” as Chen calls her, is more of a free spirit who isn’t distracted by a thing and doesn’t overthink anything. Chen is much more precise about her approach to the game. The night before the final round of the NCAA’s, for instance, Chen gave Totland a lesson on alignment at 10 p.m. in their hotel room using a ball, some floss and a can of hairspray.

“We were talking about intermediate targets and I was trying to tell her that you can’t have an intermediate target 15 feet in front of you,” Chen said. “It’s got to be like a foot to 2 feet.”

Added Totland with a roll of her eyes: “You think I would know that.”

Especially because Totland is turning pro after the Women’s Four-Ball, which means their years of playing amateur golf together is coming to an end. Winning the 3rd U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship and a USGA gold medal sure would be a nice sendoff.

Tom Cunneff is a South Carolina-based freelance writer.

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