SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — The unique, overriding quality of the USGA's newest national championship, the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, is that you join with a fellow playing partner to compete in a tournament instead of playing as an individual. The popular state association event has made its way to the national level, and San Francisco's Olympic Club is playing host to the inaugural event.
So when Atlanta native Cameron Hooper and his partner David Noll, Jr. qualified at Pinetree Country Club in Kennesaw, Ga. on September 22, no one expected Hooper to show up to The Olympic Club alone.
"The toolbox on his truck somehow came down and caught his thumb," Hooper said of Noll. "He's got 32 stitches holding the thing together.
"He almost lost his thumb."
Noll, a three-time Georgia Mid-Amateur champion, was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to the freak accident, sending Hooper to the west coast without a partner — in an event that essentially requires one.
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But the beauty of the four-ball format is that if one player is playing exceptionally well, while the other might be struggling to stay near par, the group can still manage to post a respectable number.
Hooper posted two-over par 72 on his own ball at the Ocean Course on Saturday, which at a difficult course like The Olympic Club isn't all that bad. But he'll need to go low Sunday on the tougher Lake Course to have a chance at reaching match play.
"It was okay," Hooper said of his opening round. "I wasn't really sharp the whole day. I posted a number and that's fine. We'll try and go low tomorrow. "
Hooper, like Noll, is a Georgia Mid-Amateur champion himself, winning in 2013 at Savannah Golf Club. The win was of considerable importance for Hooper, as a chronic rib injury had caused the former Coastal Carolina golfer to forgo his dream of playing professional golf. But the big amateur win, with his wife Abby on the bag, was a sweet victory for him.
Abby is looping for Hooper this week, as well, and was part of the reason he decided playing alone would still be worth it.
"I really didn't," Hooper said when asked if he thought about withdrawing. "I felt my game was good and I probably would have a chance to make the cut. My wife caddied for me and was coming out since we had already made plans."
The cut currently sits in the one-under/even-par range, meaning Hooper's chance at qualifying for match play will be arduous. But he has prior experience playing both courses as he competed here at the 2007 U.S. Amateur.
Playing collegiately for Coastal Carolina, Hooper was teammates with PGA Tour star Dustin Johnson, who was also present in '07 at The Olympic Club. The two had dinner together before Saturday's round, as Johnson is just across the street at TPC Harding Park for the Cadillac Match Play, and chatted about the two golf courses.
Hooper even made a surprise appearance as Johnson's caddy at the 2012 PGA Tour Championship at East Lake. Johnson's then full-time caddy Bobby Brown had to leave mid-round to attend to his ailing back. Thankfully, Hooper was in the crowd and available for substitute.
"There were some things I didn't know, but I played it off just fine," Hooper told Wei Under Par in 2012. "The first couple of holes, my hands had a little shake to them, I'm not gonna lie."
Hooper looked steady on the 6,700-yard, par-70 Ocean Course on Saturday, making three birdies but mixing in five bogeys, including the finishing 17th and 18th. He's currently tied for 75th place out of 128 teams.
"I'm glad I still came," he said. "It's just disappointing that David wasn't able to come."
View results for U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Golf Championship