For 128 sides (256 players), the chase for a national championship begins today at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort with the start of stroke play in the 5th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. Each side will play 18 holes on Saturday and Sunday on the Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald courses with the goal of being among the low 32 scorers to qualify for match play, which begins Monday on Old Macdonald.
If necessary, a playoff will be conducted to trim the field to exactly 32 sides.
It’s an exciting time for Bandon Dunes as the resort is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The Four-Ball will be the sixth USGA championship at Bandon and the seventh is scheduled for 2020 when the U.S. Amateur comes to the resort.
So as the first balls of the championship are about to be struck, here are 3 Things to Know going into stroke play:
Links courses have two key playing characteristics: firm turf and wind. A player’s ability to properly predict how a ball will react once it hits the ground and factor the proper trajectory often dictates success on these types of layouts. At Bandon Dunes, wind is the biggest defense. Joshua Nagelberg, the on-site meteorologist, is forecasting calm winds in the morning each of the stroke-play days, but gusts could reach as high as mid-20 mph on Sunday.
“I would say the wind makes the strategic value of the courses even more difficult,” said Bill McCarthy, director of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. “Regardless of the wind, [Pacific Dunes] plays sharp. When you put the wind on top of it, it makes it that much more difficult.
“Old Mac, which is a much wider course with big fairways and big greens, you see a different differential when the wind comes into effect. If the wind is down, you could see [sides] scoring. As long as they are comfortable with long putts on these big greens with big, sloping breaks. Once the wind comes up – and our anticipated wind is out of the north – then it turns some of these into-the-wind holes into just monsters.”
As for how much extra bounce a player might get on a shot, McCarthy said that aspect comes into play more at Old Macdonald.
“That’s the beauty of Old Mac,” he said. “That comes into play off the tee at Pacific Dunes, but at Old Mac, it is really every shot. We’re trying to get the approaches as firm as possible so [players] are using the contours that were designed to make the hole locations accessible.”
Pacific No Pushover
One glance at the scorecard and people might automatically assume Pacific Dunes might be ripe for low scores. The Tom Doak design will play nearly 400 yards shorter than Old Macdonald (6,666 yards, par 70 vs. 7,037 yards, par 71).
Not so fast.
For starters, Pacific Dunes features more obstacles and trouble spots than Old Macdonald. Pacific Dunes has five par 3s, including consecutive one-shotters on Nos. 10 and 11. The Course Rating at Pacific Dunes is slightly lower than Old Macdonald (74.8 vs. 73.7), but the Slope Rating for Pacific (145) is 10 higher than Old Macdonald (135).
“The obstacle values are just through the roof,” said McCarthy. “It’s relatively short on paper, but it never plays that short. You just throw the yardage out the window.”
The par-4 fourth hole, for example, will measure 500 yards, but it will be downwind. It’s neighbor on the inward nine, the 13th, however, will be a challenging 441-yard, par-4 into the wind featuring a deep, narrow green.
“Pacific Dunes is tough when it’s really windy,” said Bandon Dunes caddie Kevin Rei, who is competing this week with fellow caddie Kyle Crawford. “There is so much more trouble there when the wind blows that you can actually make team doubles. You need to be a plodder and really dissect that course.”
Father’s Day Comes Early
One of the cool aspects of team golf is the unique nature of the partnerships. You have guys who play club golf together or pairings of players among the top 400 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™. Brothers and brothers-in-law are matched. Some are current, future or past college teammates.
Then there are fathers playing with sons. This year’s championship features three such pairings. A lot of fathers introduce their sons to golf and with Father’s Day only three weeks away, what better way to celebrate that special day than competing alongside each other in a national championship.
Four years ago, Nebraska residents John and Andy Sajevic not only qualified for the inaugural championship, but advanced to match play. They got into the field in the past two weeks as alternates.
Larry Watts, 59, of Springfield, Ore., who has caddied at Bandon Dunes the past six summers, and his 16-year-old son, Nicholas, were the second-to-last team added to the field when 2017 co-champions Shuai Ming Wong and Frankie Capan withdrew. This is Nicholas’ first USGA event (he won the Oregon state high school 4A title as a Marist Catholic sophomore this spring), while his dad, who regained his amateur status last June, made his USGA debut last August in the U.S. Senior Amateur at Eugene Country Club, three hours north of Bandon Dunes. The same is true for Craig Roth, 48, of Bellingham, Wash., and his 22-year-old son, Cody, who just completed his senior season at Western Washington University. They have won three Washington State Golf Association Parent/Child titles.
“It's beyond words,” said Watts, who got injured after last year’s U.S. Senior Amateur and was on the fence about entering the Four-Ball with his youngest of three boys. “It’s amazing.
“I wasn’t at full strength [at the qualifier in Idaho], but Nick really played well. He was only 15 [years old] at the time.”
Last Thursday Watts inquired about their alternate status, and two days later, the USGA called and said they were in the field.
“My bones are a little older than the rest of these bones out here,” said Watts, whose side has the largest age difference (43 years) of any in the field; Nicholas is the second-youngest player. “Last year I had Nick caddie for me at Eugene. This is just an amazing experience I get to have with my son.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.