It might not be the rich reward of another United States Open — not yet, anyway — but the United States Golf Association is showing it still has Chambers Bay on its radar for national championships.
The USGA will announce Wednesday it is bringing its newest championship — the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball — to the University Place links-style course in 2019 (May 25-29).
Chambers Bay, along with The Home Course in Dupont, will play host to 256 of the world’s best amateur golfers, just as the two courses did for the 2010 U.S. Amateur.
Only this time, it isn’t an individual championship — it’s a two-man team title run.
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“The best dynamic about this championship, we are talking about a side of two partners, and we get to see how their games play off each other — in their decision-making and their shot-making,” said Bill McCarthy, the USGA’s Four-Ball championship director. “The players’ personalities really come into play.”
If you haven’t heard of the four-ball format before, you might know it under a different name — team best-ball.
It is a very popular format in recreational golf — among club members or just four buddies who want to play a competitive match with one another. It is also used in the semi-annual Ryder Cup.
“It is almost always what I play in a friendly match,” said Matt Allen, the general manager at Chambers Bay.
Allen used a term you will hear quite often in best-ball golf — “ham and egg.”
“A couple of 3-handicap golfers can ham and egg it and shoot 63 together, when neither are capable of shooting in the 60s routinely on their own,” Allen said.
The U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, which replaced the longstanding U.S. Amateur Public Links back in 2015, is quickly becoming one of the association’s most popular tournaments.
In its first year at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, it drew 2,234 team entries to qualify for 128 spots (256 players total), which were the third-most of any USGA championship.
This year for Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York, that number grew to 2,432 teams that tried to qualify.
“That (those qualifying numbers) did not surprise us,” McCarthy said. “We were very pleased that our expectations were met — or even exceeded. It speaks to the format itself.”
The format is simple: A pair of two-golfer teams tee off in each group. All the golfers play their own golf ball.
Whoever in the pair registers the best score on each hole — that is score that is recorded for the team.
As for this particular USGA championship, the tournament setup is identical to the U.S. Amateur — two days of stroke-play qualifying, which then turns to a match-play ladder of the surviving 64 sides.
Unlike in many USGA championships where par is a good score — in this team format, you’d better make birdies in order to advance.
Because of its handicap standard (5.4), and the fact that it is held in late May when college golf is entering its postseason, the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball doesn’t draw the strongest field of top amateurs.
In fact, it tends to draw more of the mid-amateur crowd. Its average age of the field at Winged Foot this year was 32 years old.
“It feels like a mid-amateur best ball, with a bunch of college kids sprinkled in,” said Bellevue’s Mike Haack, who teamed up with Tom Brandes to make the match play cut at the 2015 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball.
“It is something different. I think it’s really good just to go play with a buddy, and go compete at the national level.”