Ben Baxter & Andrew Buchanan completed a remarkable run at Winged Foot
MAMARONECK, NY (May 25, 2016) - anks to stellar play on the inward nine, the side of Benjamin Baxter and Andrew Buchanan defeated Brandon Cigna and Ben Warnquist, 3 and 2, Wednesday in the final match of the 2016 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship on the par-70, 6,728-yard East Course at Winged Foot Golf Club.
Teammates at Southern Methodist University, Baxter, 20, of Flower Mound, Texas, and Buchanan, 21, of Los Altos, Calif., were literally unbeatable on the second nine throughout the day. Baxter and Buchanan trailed the formidable mid-amateur duo of Garrett Rank and Patrick Christovich, 4 down, through eight holes in the morning semifinal before recording birdies on seven of the next nine holes, including wins on 15, 16 and 17 for a 2-and-1 victory. That dominance extended into the final, as the duo sprinted to the finish line with wins on 12, 14 and 15.
Throughout the five match-play rounds, Baxter and Buchanan played 40 holes on the inward nine in 14 under par, given match-play concessions.
“I’d say sometimes on the front nine, we almost got a little too complacent with our play,” said Baxter. “We almost got a little too comfortable getting down early in the match. On 8 through 18, we felt really comfortable with our clubs off the tee and our clubs into the green. I’d say it’s just keeping a positive attitude and kind of switching your mindset to a fresh start for the back nine.”
All square through 11 holes, the championship match turned on the 546-yard, par-5 12th. Cigna, 30, of Arlington, Va., reached the green in two. After Cigna missed his long eagle attempt, however, Baxter rolled in a 16-foot birdie putt to put the pressure back on Cigna and Warnquist. Warnquist, 23, of Olney, Md., couldn’t convert a long birdie attempt to earn a half and Cigna followed by missing his 6-footer.
For Cigna, a wealth management advisor, it was the second missed opportunity on a par 5. On the 581-yard fourth, Cigna was the only player to go for the green in two, taking an aggressive line over the water and landing on the edge of the green. A three-putt, however, led to the sides halving the hole with pars.
Despite the missed opportunities, it was a week the Washington, D.C., area friends won’t soon forget.
“This, for me, has been one of the great highlights of my golf career,” said Cigna, who won three Big Ten Conference titles at Michigan State University. “Working for a living, we’re more of just weekend golfers, but our games gelled really well together and we knew we had a chance to compete with anyone. I’m really proud of how well we did.”
After halving the fifth hole with birdies, Baxter got his side back to all square on the 177-yard, par-3 sixth. Baxter’s tee shot hit the green, but the ball rolled off the back of the green into thick rough. Fortunately, the hole location left him plenty of green to work with and he holed out his chip from 75 feet.
“I saw exactly where I needed to put it, and I was just trying to get it as high and soft as I could,” said Baxter. “That was a huge momentum boost for our team, especially since we came out a little bit sluggish.”
Warnquist, a sales representative who played college golf at the University of Maryland, briefly halted the change in momentum on No. 7, sinking a 23-foot, left-to-right par putt to regain a 1-up advantage. A win for Baxter and Buchanan on No. 8 and a half on No. 9 set up their championship march on the inward nine.
Cigna and Warnquist earned their place in the championship match with a 2-up victory in the semifinals against University of Toledo teammates Otto Black, 22, of Pinckney, Mich., and Colin Joseph, 19, of Loveland, Ohio.
With their victory, Baxter and Buchanan earned 10-year exemptions into the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, provided the side remains intact. Cigna and Warnquist, as well as the semifinal sides of Rank and Christovich, and Black and Joseph, are exempt into next year’s championship at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club.
Baxter competed in the 2013 and 2014 U.S. Amateurs, but Buchanan was competing in his first USGA championship. The win added to what has been a string of strong performances from SMU golfers in USGA championships. Baxter and Buchanan’s former teammate Bryson DeChambeau won the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club. Their head coach at SMU, Jason Enloe, also competed this week, advancing to the quarterfinals with Alex Buecking, who played at SMU with Enloe.
Enloe stuck around to support his players after he was eliminated. And while DeChambeau is the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, Baxter and Buchanan now have something to hold over his head.
“We were joking that Bryson lost in the Round of 16 last year (with another SMU player, Austin Smotherman), so if we won, then that means a year from now we should be well above him,” said Buchanan. “No, I’m just kidding.”
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