(MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.) - Alice Chen and Taylor Totland, former teammates at Furman University in nearby Greenville, S.C., won a pair of matches on Wednesday at the par-72, 6,298-yard Dunes Golf & Beach Club to win the 3rd U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship.
Totland, 22, of Tinton Falls, N.J., just finished her senior year at Furman, while Chen, 21, of Princeton, N.J., has one year left. The longtime friends from New Jersey defeated Jennifer Chang, 17, of Cary, N.C., and Gina Kim, 17, of Chapel Hill, N.C., in the morning’s semifinal match, 3 and 2. They followed suit with a resounding 4-and-3 triumph in the afternoon’s 18-hole final against Sammi Lee, 22, of Athens, Ga., and Mary Ellen Shuman, 22, of St. Simons Island, Ga., both of whom just finished their senior years at the University of Georgia.
A theme all week, Chen and Totland dominated the first three holes of The Dunes Club in match play. The duo went 8-0 combined on those holes in five matches, and won all three in the championship match against Lee and Shuman.
Chen in particular got the Furman duo off to a hot start in the final. She hit her approach on No. 1 to 3 feet and squeezed the ball into the left edge of the hole after Lee missed a similarly tricky short, breaking putt. Chen followed on the second hole with a crushed drive right down the middle, leading to a 13-foot birdie putt to go 2 up. Chen earned a third straight win on No. 3, getting up and down from a bunker for par.
“She was the glue,” said Totland, who plans to turn professional in the coming weeks.
Chen, who credited Totland with the team’s strong performances all week, again deflected praise of her early dominance.
“Tot has been playing amazing all week. I just keep on telling her it's a team event, and just did it together the whole week,” she said. “To be able to cover each other when the other one wasn't doing so hot, that's why it's called four-ball. It's been such a blast.”
The teams alternated the next three holes, with Shuman getting one back on the par-5 fourth hole with an 8-foot birdie putt. Chen got it right back on No. 5, perfectly carrying the left bunker on her approach to set up a 4-foot birdie putt.
Shuman cut the deficit to 2 down with a 7-foot birdie on No. 7, but Chen and Totland always had an answer, as a Totland 4-footer on the par-5 eighth increased the lead back to 3 up.
The inward nine started in promising fashion for Lee and Shuman, with Lee converting a tricky 15-foot birdie after Chen missed her birdie look. Then the match seemed to be teetering in the Georgia pairing’s direction.
Lee hit her approach to about 6 feet on 11 and Chen was laying 3 from the fringe after her chip from the right-rear greenside bunker rolled off the green. With Totland in trouble in the front greenside bunker, it appeared Lee would have a good chance to cut the deficit to 1 down. But Totland pulled off the kind of shot that many a USGA champion has needed to win a title. From well below the green, Totland landed the ball on the perfect line and gave it the perfect amount of pace to find the bottom of the hole for a birdie from about 30 feet away.
Totland had a good feeling right after her club made contact with the ball.
“I hit it, and I was like, that sounds pretty good,” she said. “Normally, I don't really look at my shots, especially in a bunker, but I peeked up.”
“It was right at my eye level, too, because I hit it into the hazard and I was about to chip out,” added Chen. “It was up at my eye level, and I was like, oh my God, it's looking good, and it hits the flagstick and comes back down into the hole, and I was like, yeah!”
Lee then missed her birdie to halve the hole and just like that a potential one-hole deficit turned to three holes.
“We could never get any momentum,” said Shuman. “We thought we had a little on the back when we won 10 and then Taylor knocks it in from the bunker on 11 and I was like, OK.”
Added Lee: “Every time we thought we were making progress, they put another one on top of us, so hats off to them. They played lights out.”
If there was any doubt as to the outcome, Chen all but sealed it on the ensuing hole, the par-3 12th. She landed her shot 18 feet right of the flag and buried it for a birdie. Lee missed her attempt to answer and now Lee and Shuman were 4 down and running out of holes.
The next three holes were halved, with the championship-clinching shot coming via a 6-foot uphill putt from Chen on the par-5 15th after Totland missed a downhill 6-footer that would have won the match.
Chen and Totland joined the likes of Betsy King (1989 and 1990 U.S. Women’s Open), Beth Daniel (1975 and 1977 U.S. Women’s Amateur) and Todd White (2015 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball) as USGA champions from Furman.
“I'm just sitting here thinking about all the little details. … We get to represent Furman together in the home state,” said Chen. “So I don't think you could have written up a better story. And to be co-medalists and then fight it out to win, that's pretty much as good as it gets. It's definitely not by my own doing, so I'm kind of mind blown.”
Chen and Totland also started strongly in their semifinal win against Chang and Kim, winning the first two holes and never relinquishing the lead. Chen and Totland only trailed for two holes in five matches, in the quarterfinals against Maria Torres and Samantha Wagner.
Both competing in their first USGA championships, Lee and Shuman also went wire to wire in their semifinal victory over Kathleen Gallagher, 20, of Greenwood, Miss., and Kendall Griffin, 18, of Sebring, Fla.
The U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball is one of 13 annual national championships conducted by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. The championship is open to sides of female amateur golfers, each of whom has a Handicap Index® not exceeding 14.4. It consists of two 18-hole rounds of stroke play, after which the field is cut to the low 32 sides for match play.
The 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball will take place April 28-May 2 at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, Calif.