May 5, 2015
Brothers Ryan and Jason Higton saw their journey at the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at the Olympic Club come to an end.
The No.14 seeds, Ryan, 32, and Jason, 35, lost in Tuesday’s quarterfinals of the championship, falling 3 and2 to No.11 seeds Todd White and Nathan Smith.
Still, it’s not bad considering it was the only event of the season the two plan on playing together this year.
A real estate investor, Ryan has a wife and two daughters waiting at home. Jason, an orthopaedic sales rep for Johnson and Johnson, has a wife and daughter back at home, with another child on its way.
It was a heck of a ride, culminating in the two playing live nationally on Fox Sports 1. But it’s time to get back to their regular lives.
“It’s been really good,” Jason said. “It’s the best experience we’ve had as pair, and to do it on a very difficult golf course feels good.”
“We came in thinking we could win the tournament,” Ryan said. “But at the same time we had low expectations.”
White and Smith were formidable foes. Smith, 36 of Pittsburgh, is a four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion. White, a 47-year-old history teacher from South Carolina, is playing in his 16th USGA championship.
“They hit the ball so straight,” Jason said. “They’re not the longest, but they know where to put the ball.”
The Higtons first had to just qualify for match play. After a 2-over 72 in Saturday’s first round of stroke play qualifying, the two were on the bubble. They’d come up clutch in the second round, posting a 64 to advance.
Earlier in the morning Round of 16, they upset No.3 seeds Kyle Suppa and Kyosuke Hara of Hawaii.
Against White and Smith, it came down to two par-3s and one mistake. On holes No.8 and No.13, White and Smith won with birdies.
On No.10, White and Smith won when the Higtons made bogey. The remaining 13 holes were all halved.
“They beat us on the par 3s and we gave them No.10,” Ryan said. “That was the difference.”
As good as Stanford teammates Maverick McNealy and Viraat Badhwar have been lately, they ran into two players who, at least for a day, were even better.
The No.1 seeds, McNealy and Badhwar could only watch as 2012 Southern Methodist University grad Brooks Price stuck his 9-iron approach from 148 yards out on the par-4 18th to within 12 inches of the flagstick to give he and partner Draegen Majors (another SMU alum) a 1-up win in the morning Round of 16.
Coming into the 18th, Price and Majors held a 1-up lead. Badhwar had a birdie chance but it wouldn’t matter as the two Cardinal conceded.
“I could tell from the get-go that they were here to play,” McNealy said. “They made some awesome par saves early on.”
All-square through 14, Majors and Brooks first applied heat by birdying the 15th for a 1-up lead. McNealy and Badhwar, who helped Stanford to its second straight Pac-12 title last week, answered with a birdie of their own on No.16 when McNealy stiffed a wedge to within 2 feet of the flagstick.
“We felt like we were in it all the way,” said McNealy, who set a record at the Pac-12 finals for lowest 72-hole score (18-under 262) after carding a final round 61. “We just couldn’t convert on No.17 and No.18.
On the par-5 17th, Price and Majors took a 1-up lead when Majors sank a tricky 6-footer.
It would portend Price’s heroics on 18.
“I knew it was all over it,” said Price of his shot. “Once it was over the bunker we knew it was close. It was great to end that way.”
McNealy and Badhwar, who earned medalist honors after shooting 10-under 130 in the 36-hole stroke play qualifying, may have ran out of gas.
In between winning the Pac-12 and teeing off at Olympic Club, the two each took two midterms. In Monday’s Round of 32, they’d win 6 and 4 despite playing their 14 holes at 2-over. Over their 18 holes versus Majors and Price, they’d shoot 2-under.
“They just played well all day and we left some putts out there,” Badhwar said. “It was still a lot of fun.”
Also suffering a difficult loss was the No.6 seeded team of Clovis resident Bryson DeChambeau and Austin Smotherman of Loomis.
The two former Junior Tour of Northern California members, who are now teammates at SMU, were upset by White and Smith.
A day after cruising to a 5 and 3 opening victory, the two had three critical bogeys that ended their run.
The only lead DeChambeau and Smotherman held was 1-up following a birdie on No.5. White and Smith, who were teammates on the winning 2013 Walker Cup squad, quickly erased that lead with a par on the 6th and a birdie on the 7th.
The match would again be all-square on the 11th, but White and Smith won No. 13 with a par. A final bogey on the 17th would seal DeChambeau and Smotherman’s fate.
“We gave them three holes with bogeys,” Smotherman said. “We played hard but it stinks to lose. Still, we got to play in the first U.S. Four-Ball, which is cool.”
The No. 21 seeded tandem of 2012 NCGA Amateur Match Play champ Jake Yount of Danville and Tim Mickelson also fell in the Round of 16, losing 3 and 1 to No.5 Zach Atkinson and James Edmondson.
The duo, who qualified for the championship at Poppy Hills, quickly fell behind by one on the 2nd hole and never recovered.
During the match play portion of the championship, Yount said he used his 2012 NCGA win at Spyglass Hill as a “been there, done that” tool.
“That factored in a lot,” Yount said. “I really like match play. You get to see your opponent instead of a scoreboard. It’s more of a boxing match than a sprint.”
May 4, 2015
The par-4 18th on the Lake Course at the Olympic Club was playing at a tantalizingly drivable 266 yards, but no one ever got that far.
Each of the four teams with Northern California ties left alive at the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship got off to great starts in Monday’s Round of 32, posting somewhat easy victories.
Stanford teammates and No.1 seeds Maverick McNealy and Viraat Badhwar, who helped the Cardinal claim their second Pac-12 title last week, cruised to a 6 and 4 win in their opener. They’d jump out to a 4-up lead through the first six holes and never looked back.
“We played pretty solid,” Badhwar said. “We just tried to give ourselves birdie chances.”
The two sophomores, who are best friends, have one advantage over the field. At the end of each day, they’ve been able to head home to rest.
“It’s great to sleep in your own bed,” McNealy said. “We’ve been carpooling up each day.”
Jake Yount and partner Tim Mickelson were the only lower seeded NorCal squad to pull off an upset. Seeded No.21, they’d knock off No.12 seeds Trevor Randolph and Keith Unikel, 2 and 1, after jumping out to a 3-up lead through the first six holes.
“We got off to a great start and then just held on,” said Yount, who works as a sales manager for Riverbed Technology in San Francisco.
For the 28-year-old Yount and Mickelson, who’s the younger brother of Phil, the championship has been a trip down memory lane.
The two first met at the 2004 U.S. Junior Amateur at the Olympic Club, where Mickelson, then head coach at University of San Diego, was scouting for talent. Yount went on to play for Mickelson at USD from 2005-2009.
“It’s really fun to be back here,” said Yount, whose match play resume includes a victory at the 2012 NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship. “That’s what we live for, the amateur events. We have lots of good vibes here. I love this place a lot.”
While Yount and Mickelson got within a hole of taking a shot at the 18th, the No.14 seeded tandem of brothers Ryan and Jason Higton of Fresno reeled off a quick 5 and 4 win in their opener.
Having won the 2011 NCGA Four-Ball Championship playing with J.R. Becko, Jason, 35, has plenty of four-ball experience. But this is four-ball with a twist.
“It’s really quite a bit different,” said Jason, the 2002 Big West Conference Player of the Year at the University of the Pacific. “In a way it’s unchartered waters. I mean, how often do you play two-man match play?”
While Jason has played in numerous USGA events including the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay, Ryan, 32, is making his USGA debut.
The two were introduced to golf at the age of three by their father.
“We’ve been playing together for so long that we know what the other person is doing, even what they are thinking,” Ryan said.
Former Junior Tour of Northern California members Bryson DeChambeau and Austin Smotherman, the No.6 seeds, also used a great start in rolling to victory. They’d grab a 4-up lead through six thanks in part to birdies on No.3 and No.5 en route to eliminating No.27 Wes Stafford and Matthew Collins, 5 and 3.
In Tuesday morning’s Round of 16, McNealy and Badhwar will face No.17 Draegen Majors and Brooks Price, while Yount and Mickelson will take on No.5 Zach Atkinson and James Edmondson.
On the other side of the bracket, the Higtons will face No.3 Kyle Suppa and Kyosuke Hara. Dechambeau and Smotherman will square off against No.11 Todd White and Nathan Smith.
The quarterfinals will follow, teeing off at 1 p.m.
NOTES: Anything is possible, but it doesn’t look like Phil Mickelson will be making a cameo at the Olympic Club to support his brother in person.
“Phil texted Tim Sunday night and said ‘Good Luck,’” Yount said. “Tim didn’t tell him that we’d advanced to match play, so Phil found out somewhere else.”….
One of the hardest parts of Yount’s day was fitting under the FOX Sports photo area. FOX Sports, whose golf coverage debuts Tuesday, had asked each winning team to stop by for a file snapshot. Yount , who stands 6-foot-6, had to crouch down to fit…
While they didn’t play the 18th, the Higton brothers planned to mimic what they did on the par-4 7th, which played at 257 yards. “We would’ve done the same thing. Have Jason tee off first and go for it. If he got up there, then I’d take a whack at it too,” Ryan said.
The teams that did play the 18th used the same formula. Let the first guy go for it. If not on, the second player played safe to the fairway.
May 3, 2015
Teammates Bryson DeChambeau and Austin Smotherman knew they had to make a move in Sunday’s second round of stroke play qualifying at the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at the Olympic Club.
And they did just that.
DeChambeau and Smotherman, both former members of the Junior Tour of Northern California, posted a bogey-free 5-under 65 on the par-70 Lake Course, earning them a coveted spot in the 32-team match play brackets.
The duo finished stroke play qualifying at 6-under 134 (T-5), four strokes behind medalists Viraat Badhwar and Maverick McNealy, who are teammates at Stanford.
“We felt like we were a little behind the 8-ball,” said Dechambeau, who hails from Clovis.. “But we also felt that we were good enough to be in the Top 32.”
Following a mistake-free but sluggish 1-under 33 on the front-nine, the two got going. On the back-nine, they’d card four birdies.
“That’s where Austin played his heart out,” DeChambeau said. “I knew there were some holes we could take advantage of. But you have to play smart out here. It’s a U.S. Open course.”
Like a number of teams in the field, DeChambeau and Smotherman know each other’s games well due to being collegiate teammates. Both are juniors at Southern Methodist University.
The duo’s motto for the championship is help each other and beat each other.
“We came out here to help each other out,” said Smotherman, who grew up in Sacramento. “We’re feeding off each other.”
McNealy and Badhwar, who just prior to the championship helped lead Stanford to its second straight Pac-12 title, followed up a first round leading 64 on the par-70 Ocean Course with a 66 on the Lake Course.
In between winning the Pac-12 and teeing off at Olympic Club, the two each took two midterms.
On the duo’s back-nine, they’d card five birdies and a bogey.
“It’d be really cool to win the inaugural U.S. Four-Ball,” Badhwar said. “Mav was my anchor today. As usual, he played really well.”
The tandem of Fresno brothers Jason and Ryan Higton, who made it into the championship after qualifying at Poppy Hills, also were clutch when they had to be.
Jason, 35, and Ryan, 32, shot a 6-under 64 on the Ocean Course, putting them in a tie for 14th place at 236.
“We got off to a great start and just rolled off of that,” said Jason, the 2002 Big West Conference Player of the Year at the University of the Pacific. “We were thinking 5-under but it seemed unlikely the way the wind was blowing and with the speed of the greens.”
The other team with a Northern California connection that moved on to match play was the team of Arizona State University men’s golf coach Tim Mickelson and 2012 NCGA Amateur Match Play champ Jake Yount of Danville.
Yount and Mickelson, the younger brother of Phil, came in at 137 (T-17) after a 69 on the Ocean Course.
The two first met at the 2004 U.S. Junior Amateur at the Olympic Club, where Mickelson, then head coach at University of San Diego, was scouting for talent.
“There was a little more pressure today,” said Yount, who went on to play for Mickelson at USD from 2005-2009. “The key was playing the front sides of the greens. There are some pins in the back that can really get you.”
Just missing the cutline for match play was the father-son tandem of NCGA Senior Amateur Tour regular Jim Williams and his son, Scott. The Williamses had their second straight 70 to come in at 140.
The elder Williams was a member of the USGA Executive Committee from 2010-2012, when the formation of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball was proposed.
Also missing out on advancing by just a stroke was the Granite Bay GC tandem of Gary Deblaquiere and Scott Colby, who shot a 69 on the Lake Course.
A playoff for the final match play seeds will begin Monday morning at 7 a.m. Match play will then begin at 9 a.m. off hole No.1 of the Lake Course.
May 2, 2015
Fresh off helping Stanford to their second straight Pac-12 title, Cardinal teammates Maverick McNealy and Viraat Badhwar are now making noise closer to home.
On Saturday, McNealy and Badhwar jumped into first place after the first round of stroke play qualifying at the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at the Olympic Club, posting a 6-under 64 on the par-70 Ocean Course. The duo leads Tim Tucker and Kyle Crawford of Oregon and the tandem of former USC teammates Jordan Nasser and Taylor Wood by a stroke in the chase for the No.1 match play seed.
Both sophomores, McNealy closed out the pair’s round by holing out from the greenside bunker on 18 for birdie.
“Viraat was set to make par so I figured I’d take a shot at the pin,” McNealy said. “That’s what’s fun about playing in this format.”
Just this past Wednesday, McNealy, a former member of the Junior Tour of Northern California, shot a bogey-free, 9-under 61 to help Stanford to victory. Along with setting a new course record at the Pac-12 Championship site (Palouse Ridge GC in Pullman, Wa.), McNealy set a record for the lowest 72-hole score ever in the Pac-12 Championship (18-under 262).
It appears that McNealy is still in a groove.
Following an opening bogey on the 1st, McNealy sank birdies on the 3rd and 4th holes to get the two back to under par. On No.5 it was Badhwar’s turn to make birdie.
After making the turn, they’d go bogey-free, tacking on birdies at No.13 and the closing 17th and 18th holes. On No.17, Badhwar drained a slippery 25-footer.
“Viraat has an awesome vibe for my game and understands me as a person,” McNealy said.
Badhwar should know McNealy. The two live together.
“We’ve seen both of our games way too much,” Badhwar said. “We understand our games and how to help each other on the course.”
Also making an early move was the team of Danville resident Jake Yount and Arizona State University men’s golf coach Tim Mickelson, who earned their spot in the championship at a qualifier held at Poppy Hills.
Yount, winner of the 2012 NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship, and Mickelson, the younger brother of Phil Mickelson, carded a 2-under 68 on the Lake Course to land in a tie for 17th.
The team of Clovis resident and JTNC alum Bryson DeChambeau and Texan Austin Smotherman, who were both exempt due to being in the Top 400 of the World Amateur Golf Rankings, also put themselves in a good spot (T-23) following a 69 on the Ocean Course.
Teammates at Southern Methodist University, DeChambeau is playing in his ninth USGA championship and was a quarterfinalist at the 2014 U.S. Amateur Public Links.
A few of the other teams with Northern California ties will enter Sunday’s second round needing to make a charge.
Granite Bay GC member Gary Dunn and Jon Peterson, who won their second straight Granite Bay Four-Ball title in March, are T-39 after a 70 on the Ocean Course.
The two, who got in as alternates, received word last Tuesday that they’d earned a spot in the championship.
“We’re thrilled just to be here,” Peterson said. “It certainly made us change our plans. We had to change things pretty quick.”
During their round, Peterson and Dunn, who was runner-up at last year’s NCGA Four-Ball Championship playing with Cameron Champ, missed five birdie putts within 10 to 12 feet.
“The green are very firm and the pins are tough,” Peterson said. “We’ll need to play better tomorrow and have those putts fall in.”
Fellow Granite Bay GC members Gary Deblaquiere and Scott Colby, who also earned their spots in the championship at a qualifier at 2015 U.S. Senior Open venue Del Paso CC in Sacramento, are T-54 after a 71.
Also at T-54 are Roman Mudd and David Nelson of Reno.
Following Sunday’s second round of stroke play qualifying, a cut will be made with the low 32 teams (64 players) advancing to Monday’s first round of match play.
Notes: Atlanta’s Cameron Cooper ended up going solo after his partner, David Noll Jr. of Dalton, Ga. had to pull out due to an injury. Cooper shot a 72 on the Ocean Course on his own ball…The team of Austin Connelly of Texas and Sam Burns of Louisiana also nearly dropped to one player. Connelly originally said that he was leaving no matter what to play in a Texas high school championship on Monday. After shooting an opening 66 on the Ocean Course, Connelly later changed his mind. Seems that a shot at a national championship outweighs a high school title.