Patrick Christovich plays a shot during quarterfinal play
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, NC (May 30, 2017) - Clark Collier and Kyle Hudelson were among the last sides into the field for the 3rd U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, and now they might be the last team standing.
The two Oklahoma City natives – Collier, 27, who now lives in Dallas, and Hudelson, 29, who resides in Scottsdale, Ariz. – got into the field a week ago as alternates, and they’ve made the most of their opportunity. Collier and Hudelson won a pair of nail-biting matches Tuesday on the par-70, 7,161-yard Course No. 2, including a 1-up quarterfinal decision over 2015 champions Nathan Smith and Todd White.
They join Patrick Christovich, 38, of New Orleans, La., and 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up Garrett Rank, 29, of Canada; 17-year-olds Shuai Ming (Ben) Wong, of Hong Kong China, and Frankie Capan, of North Oaks, Minn.; and Floridians Chip Brooke, 41, of Bartow, and 2015 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up Marc Dull, 31, of Winter Haven, in Wednesday morning’s semifinals, which begin at 7 a.m.
The two semifinal winners will square off in the 18-hole championship match at approximately 1 p.m. All four semifinalists are exempt into the 2018 championship at Jupiter Hills Club in Tequesta, Fla., providing the side remains intact.
That’s good news to Collier and Hudelson, who were headed to other locales over Memorial Day weekend until the USGA contacted them on May 24. The alternates were now in after Cole Hammer and Philip Barbaree, an exempt side, withdrew because the latter was competing in the NCAA Championship for Louisiana State University. Collier and Hudelson earned first-alternate status after winning a playoff in their Four-Ball qualifier in Glenn Ellyn, Ill., last fall.
“I guess we get another tee time tomorrow,” said Collier, beaming after what has transpired over the past six days. The two are playing in their first-ever USGA championship.
Earlier on Wednesday, Collier and Hudelson rallied for a 19-hole victory in the Round of 16 over Thomas McDonagh and Brendan Borst after being 1 down going into the 18th hole. A clutch par after McDonagh and Borst failed to convert sent the match to the first extra hole, where par was again good enough to win the match.
Against White and Smith, a four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, Collier and Hudelson again faced a tall task. Thriving in their underdog role, they held off the two experienced USGA competitors, thanks to some clutch shot-making.
Two up with four to play, Collier missed a 3-foot par putt on the par-3 15th to see the side’s lead trimmed in half. They settled down over the final three holes, with Collier hitting a clutch approach on the green from the native area on No. 18 to free up Hudelson’s second shot from the fairway. He, too, found the putting surface, and when Smith, who was in the left-greenside bunker, and White, who was just off the front of the green, failed to birdie, Hudelson nestled his birdie attempt to within concession range.
“Those guys are legends,” said Collier of Smith and White, who were teammates on the victorious 2013 USA Walker Cup Team. “What a class act. They’re truly an example for the game.”
Added Hudelson: “Nathan Smith, it’s just an honor to play with him. I mean how many [USGA] matches has he played?
“[Before the week started], we said we had already won and had nothing to lose. I mean everything was against us. Beating a great team and us being a dark horse, it was great.”
Next up for these “underdogs” is a semifinal match against 2016 semifinalists Christovich and Rank, a three-time Canadian Mid-Amateur champion who just finished his first full season as a National Hockey League referee.
They, too, were stretched to the final hole against 2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up Todd Mitchell and 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Scott Harvey, who turned 39 Tuesday. His birthday celebration went well for half a day, but Christovich and Rank rallied for a 2-up win.
With the match all square on the par-3 15th hole, Christovich holed a 20-footer for birdie with his partner 12 feet from the hole and Mitchell 4 feet inside of him. Christovich put the pressure on Mitchell by draining his birdie putt, and Mitchell could not answer.
“I think that was huge,” said Rank. “It put a lot of pressure on them.”
On Monday, Rank and Christovich survived an 8-for-6 playoff for the final spots in the match-play draw, before eliminating North Carolina teenagers Akshay Bhatia and Grayson Wotnosky. On Tuesday morning, they outlasted Matt Naumec and Billy Walthouse, 2 and 1, before beating Mitchell and Harvey, semifinalists in the 2015 championship who were coming off a 3-and-2 victory over Sean Rowen and 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up Kenny Cook in the Round of 16.
“We were very controlled all day,” said Christovich. “Those were probably four of the 10 best mid-amateur players in the world playing in the same group. It’s fun to play against your friends, and, obviously, you want to win when the competition is high. We played quite well today.”
Wong and Capan, the only juniors remaining, needed some 18th-hole heroics to oust the Charlotte, N.C., tandem of David Kocher and William Rainey. Wong, who has committed to attend Southern Methodist University in 2018, drained a 10-foot birdie putt to seal the 1-up victory.
“I was actually really confident over the putt,” said Wong, who moved to The Woodlands, Texas, three years ago and has advanced to U.S. Open sectional qualifying on June 5 in Dallas. “I don’t want to brag, but I wasn’t nervous at all. I could feel the adrenaline in my hands, but it was not really pressure. Just excitement for the ball to get in the hole.”
Wong and Capan thought they might be facing the latter’s future University of Alabama teammates, No. 2 seeds Davis Shore and Wilson Furr, but they were eliminated by Kocher and Rainey, 6 and 5. Capan has committed to Alabama for the 2018-19 season, while Shore and Furr are headed there this fall.
Dull, a full-time caddie at Streamsong Resort, and Brooke, who helped start the resort’s caddie program before getting into the lumber industry, pulled out a dramatic 19-hole victory over Connor Campbell and Blake Meek in the Round of 16 before cruising to a 4-and-3 quarterfinal win over Justin Kaplan and Scott Loving.
Campbell and Meek birdied Nos. 16 and 18, the latter from 50 feet, to force extra holes before Dull stuffed a wedge approach at the par-4 first hole – No. 19 in the match – to set up a winning birdie.
The duo pulled away from Kaplan and Loving with three birdies in a four-hole stretch on Nos. 8, 10 and 11 to forge a 4-up lead. The two played the equivalent of 5-under-par round, with the usual match-play concessions.
“We played great this morning,” said Dull. “We didn’t make a bogey. [But] they played good, too. I mean we fought hard today.
“This afternoon was definitely our best collective round where we both played well.”
The U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are for amateurs. The championship consists of 36 holes of stroke play – one round each on Course No. 2 and Course No. 8 – followed by five rounds of match play over a three-day period.
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