What IS a Four-Ball Anyway?

Golf is a lonely game. Let me correct that – competitive golf is a lonely game! Most of my competitive golf career has been spent playing in individual tournaments. And that is just how the game is. Golf is not known as a team sport. It’s not like football or baseball or basketball. Grinding away on the range by yourself is lonely. And you’ve got nobody to blame for a bogey but yourself. But when it is played as a team sport in such competitions as the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup, we get to see some unbelievable golf with such passion from players that are normally very stoic! They are playing for their team and their countries, something we as golfers rarely, if ever, do. 

Best Ball / Better Ball / Four-Ball?

I mean how many times have you watched the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup and thought, “Why do you call it a four-ball anyway?” Most people know it as “best ball” or “better ball.” But, I’m sure some old Scottish curmudgeon who was half in the bag after his day on the links decided to call it a four-ball and confuse everyone. Leave it to the Scottish, who have been credited with the reason for golf having 18 holes (because there were 18 shots in a bottle of scotch – which will also leave you very confused if you were to go out and give this a try). And, as American golf’s lovable character John Daly once said, “If the Scots only had 14 shots in a bottle of scotch, I might have 14 majors.” Sorry the Scots and Scotch have me going down a rabbit hole…
In a match play competition, a four-ball consists of two teams of players competing directly against each other. All four golfers play their own ball throughout the round rather than alternating shots, and each hole is won by the team whose member has the lowest score. Four years ago, the USGA came up with the wonderful idea to have a National Four-Ball tournament and hence the writing of this post.  
US Amateur Four-Ball at Jupiter Hills
More than 128 teams competed at the 4th annual U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Tournament contested at Jupiter Hills Club in Tequesta, Florida
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT AND LEGAL DISCLAIMER: DO NOT TRY TO DRINK 18 SHOTS OF SCOTCH IN 18 HOLES. 
Now that my lawyers will be satisfied, I’m back to the task at hand.

A Snapshot of Golf Through My Years

Some of my fondest memories of my competitive golf career were as a member of my high school team in Tifton, Georgia, and as a member of the University of Georgia golf team. Celebrating a win like the SEC Championship or NCAA National Championship is that much sweeter when you have gone through the battle with your team or, at minimum, another player. 
So, when I gained my amateur status back and started to contemplate playing a few competitive events, I couldn’t help but think of maybe, one day, playing in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball. Even the thought of member-guests excited me because what sport or competition isn’t more fun when you can share it with somebody else…..
So when my good buddy Stuart Moore and I qualified for the U.S. Four-Ball last October, I was pretty excited. Then we had to wait almost 7 months until we made the trip down to Jupiter, Florida, to compete against 128 other top teams from around the country. The championship was to be contested on a course I had never heard of – Jupiter Hills Club. I had no clue the 1987 U.S. Amateur had been held there. Sorry Billy Mayfair (that year’s champion). But, let me tell you, it was a very special place! The clubhouse was awesome, situated at the highest point on the property overlooking the grounds, the food was second to none, and the course and conditions were national championship worthy. 
Having said all that, the weather didn’t want everything to be too perfect because it basically rained for 6 straight days while we were there and made the golf even more demanding than it normally would have been. And thank goodness the Fazios were given a sand dune to build the course upon because, if not, we might still be down there trying to complete the championship!! I believe the Jupiter area received close to 13 inches of rainfall (don’t quote me on that, but it was a lot!) over the two week stretch of the U.S. Four-Ball. My rain gear had not seen that much use since 2005! But we persevered and finished at 4 under for two days of qualifying to finish with the 17th seed going into match play.
Jupiter Hills Country Club
Jupiter Hills Golf Club, Tequesta, Florida

 

“We were pretty fired up to show everybody what a couple of old working guys could still do.” 

We were the first match out Monday morning playing against last year’s finalists and we were ready to roll. We were 6 up through the front nine and feeling great. As match play goes, our competitors played the next 4 holes 3 under to cut our lead to 4 up with 5 to play. Then came another monsoon! As play resumed a few hours later, we halved 14 with pars and then we birdied the 15th to win the match 5 and 3. Time to rest! I couldn’t even think of possibly playing and walking 36 holes in one day! But, as luck would have it, we wouldn’t play 36 holes on Tuesday. We would play 39 holes! Our match Tuesday morning was against the stroke play medalists and it was a hard fought match all day with great shots by both sides. I happened to make two very difficult curling putts to clinch the victory, one on 16 for a half and the other on 17 to win the match 2 and 1. Next came lunch, rest, a change of socks (this was vital as my feet were turning to prunes from their constant state of wetness), and hitting a few putts. No chance us old guys were going to hit balls, we figured we needed to save every swing we had. And we were right as my partner and I just absolutely ran out of gas in our semifinal match (which I know is hard to believe since Stuart runs marathons and I’m not in terrible shape and we were only playing golf)! Golf is an easy game that requires no physical conditioning at all right? Wrong!! We both needed golf conditioning and we just don’t play enough golf on a consistent basis. 
And, off we went in our quarterfinal match. It was a grind! Both teams did not have their best stuff, but nobody wanted to give an inch. We battled back and forth all day losing the 18th to go to extra holes! And at this point my legs were just barely moving and I don’t know how, actually they’d been doing that since the 10th hole of that match haha. But we pressed on. The 19th was halved with 5s and we won’t call them bogies because it was a 500-yard par 5 that was converted into a par 4 for the week that doglegged right to left and consistently played into a breeze that was in our face and off the left. Making this a brute of a hole. 
USGA 4th US Amateur Four-Ball Stroke Play
USGA 4th US Amateur Four-Ball Championship Bracket

To the 20th we went…

All sides were looking at par putts with the closest being a 6-footer by the other team. Stuart missed his from 35 feet. The other team rolled in a 30-footer and that left me with a 20-footer to keep our hopes alive. I was tired but not ready to go home and I firmly believe that I willed that ball in the hole because 3 feet out I started walking it in like Tiger and might have said an expletive but needless to say I was fired up! The 21st hole was halved in 3s and we made our way to the par 5 4th hole. Stuart and I laid up a little further back than we would have liked to a pin tucked over the front bunker and didn’t hit our approaches very well. So we were left with lengthy birdie putts to apply any pressure and we just couldn’t muster any magic as our opponents were able to make a great up and down for birdie to send us on our way back to Georgia. We were frustrated and tired, and proud and mad all at the same time. What a fun week! 
To summarize: we had fun, got wet, played way more golf than we are used to playing these days, came close to doing something spectacular, and can’t wait to give it another shot. To the USGA, the membership and staff at Jupiter Hills and all others involved in pulling off the tournament, thank you! It was certainly a first-class event!

Stay Dapper,
David