Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Defending Champs Advance at U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship

(Tequesta, Fla.) - Defending champions Frankie Capan and Shuai Ming (Ben) Wong knew their Monday at Jupiter Hills Club had the potential of being a long day.

Up at 4:30 a.m. and at the course by 5:30 a.m. to prepare for the 7-for-6 playoff on the Village Course that began for them at 7:26, the two 18-year-olds fortunately didn’t take too long to get into the 32-player draw. By 7:45, they had achieved their first goal with a par on the first playoff hole. But now the duo had nearly three hours to kill before their Round-of-32 match on the Hills Course against No. 2 seeds and Illinois State teammates Zach Burry and Trent Wallace.

Capan, of North Oaks, Minn., FaceTimed with friends. Wong, who was born in Hong Kong China but now resides in The Woodlands, Texas, caught a show on Netflix and hit the club’s fitness center.

“We were just trying to kill time,” said Wong. “We were thinking about heading back [to our hotel], but it’s like a 20- to 25-minute drive, and by the time we’d get there, we’d only have an hour and we’d have to come right back.”

So they stuck around. And after a 3-and-1 victory, they’ll be continuing their stay for at least another 24 hours.

The news, however, was not as good for the other U.S. Amateur Four-Ball champions in the field. Inaugural winners Nathan Smith, 39, of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Todd White, 50, of Spartanburg, S.C., were eliminated by Pat Collogan, 32, and Craig Poet, 47, both of Ponca City, Okla., 3 and 2.

The top-seeded Northern California side of Bobby Bucey, 29, of Concord, and Brett Viboch, 34, of Moraga, who shot 11-under 129 in stroke play to earn medalist honors, shook off some early nerves and advanced with a 3-and-2 victory over playoff survivors and South Dakota natives Danny Amundson and Michael Martin.

And the two highest-ranked players in the field, Cole Hammer, 18, of Houston, Texas (No. 52 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™), and Garrett Barber, 18, of Stuart, Fla. (No. 57 in WAGR), rolled 7 and 6 over Delaware mid-amateurs Ed Brown and Jay Whitby, the largest margin of victory in U.S. Amateur Four-Ball history.

For the second time in three days, play was suspended due to inclement weather for 2 hours, 15 minutes. On Saturday, the championship suffered through three suspensions totaling 4 hours, 5 minutes.

Wong and Capan said the break re-charged their energy. In fact, Capan took a power nap – “They’re underrated.” – before enjoying a hearty lunch with his longtime buddy. The duo, which was 1 down thru five holes at the time of the delay, immediately squared the match at the sixth hole when Capan got up and down from a greenside bunker for par. Wong, who is headed to Southern Methodist University this fall, followed with a beautiful 6-iron to 2½ feet on the par-3 ninth for a 1-up lead at the turn.

Burry, 22, of Quincy, Ill., and Wallace, 20, of Joliet, Ill., chipped in for a birdie on the 14th to square the match.

With the tees moved up 57 yards on No. 15, Wong nearly drove the green on the 364-yard hole. His pitch stopped 2 inches from the flagstick for a conceded birdie and a 1-up lead. On the next hole, Capan, a 2018 University of Alabama signee, stuffed his approach to 5 feet. When Wallace and Burry both missed their birdie tries from inside 12 feet, Capan drained his for a 2-up advantage. They closed out the match on 17 with a conceded birdie.

Poet, with one USGA championship under his belt (2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur) and his partner competing in his first, knew experience wasn’t on their side against Smith and White, who own six USGA championships and four Walker Cup appearances between them. But feeling no pressure, they jumped out to a 3-up lead after nine holes before the weather suspension, with Collogan hitting a 6-iron on the par-3 ninth to 4 feet as the heavy rain pelted the course. Poet’s birdie on the par-5 13th kept the momentum going and the sides were shaking hands three holes later.

“With those guys, you better not sleep on the lead,” said Collogan.

Added Poet: “I probably felt less pressure. If you looked at it, you’d think Nathan (five USGA titles) and Todd, with what they’ve done in the past, they’re used to playing in these events. It made it easier for us to just go out and freewheel it.”

- The 7-for-6 playoff Monday morning on the Village Course lasted seven holes with Danny Amundson, 32, of Sioux Falls, S.D., and Michael Martin, 34, of Scottsdale, Ariz., garnering the final spot in the match-play draw. Holes 1, 2 and 18 of the Village Course were utilized.

- Steven Groover, 32, of Birmingham, Ala., and M. Tyler McKeever, 35, of Atlanta, Ga., defeated Chad Wilfong, 37, of Charlotte, N.C., and Davis Womble, 24, of Winston-Salem, N.C., in 23 holes, the longest match in championship history.

- Oklahoma City natives Clark Collier and Kyle Hudelson, runners-up in last year’s championship, were eliminated by David Denham, of Athens, Ga., and Stuart Moore, of Gainesville, Ga., 5 and 3.

- The other two semifinalists from 2017 each advanced. Marc Dull, 32, of Winter Haven, Fla., and Chip Brooke, 42, of Altamonte Springs, Fla., posted a 3-and-2 win, while full-time NHL referee Garrett Rank, 30, of Canada, and Patrick Christovich, 39, of New Orleans, La., earned a 4-and-3 victory.

- Two other matches went 19 holes. Seattle University teammates and playoff survivors Kyle Cornet, 23, of Seattle, Wash., and Patrick Sato, 23, of Bellevue, Wash., ousted 2015 semifinalists Todd Mitchell and Scott Harvey. Harvey won the 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur and was a member of the 2015 USA Walker Cup Team. Torey Edwards, 36, of Long Beach, Calif., and Bret Parker, 38, of Huntington Beach, Calif., edged Washington State University teammates Zach Anderson and Derek Bayley. Bayley will be teeing it up in U.S. Open sectional qualifying on June 4.

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