Frankie Capan and Shuai Ming (Ben) Wong (USGA photo)
TEQUESTA, FL (May 21, 2018) - efending champions Frankie Capan and Shuai Ming (Ben) Wong knew their Monday at Jupiter Hills Club had the potential of being a long day.
Up at 4:30 a.m. and at the course by 5:30 to prepare for the 7-for-6 playoff on the Village Course that began for them at 7:26, the two 18-year-olds fortunately didn’t take too long to get into the 32-player draw. By 7:45, they had achieved their first goal with a par on the first playoff hole. But now the duo had nearly three hours to kill before their Round-of-32 match on the Hills Course against No. 2 seeds and Illinois State teammates Zach Burry and Trent Wallace.
Capan, of North Oaks, Minn., FaceTimed with friends. Wong, who was born in Hong Kong China but now resides in The Woodlands, Texas, watched a show on Netflix and hit the club’s fitness center.
“We were just trying to kill time,” said Wong. “We were thinking about heading back [to our hotel], but it’s like a 20- to 25-minute drive, and by the time we’d get there, we’d only have an hour and we’d have to come right back.”
So they stuck around. And after a 3-and-1 victory, they’ll be continuing their stay for at least another 24 hours.
The news, however, was not as good for the other U.S. Amateur Four-Ball champions in the field. Inaugural winners Nathan Smith, 39, of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Todd White, 50, of Spartanburg, S.C., were eliminated by Pat Collogan, 32, and Craig Poet, 47, both of Ponca City, Okla., 3 and 2.
The top-seeded Northern California side of Bobby Bucey, 29, of Concord, and Brett Viboch, 34, of Moraga, who shot 11-under 129 in stroke play to earn medalist honors, shook off some early nerves and advanced with a 3-and-2 victory over playoff survivors and South Dakota natives Danny Amundson and Michael Martin.
And the two highest-ranked players in the field, Cole Hammer, 18, of Houston, Texas (No. 52 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™), and Garrett Barber, 18, of Stuart, Fla. (No. 57 in WAGR), rolled, 7 and 6, over Delaware mid-amateurs Ed Brown and Jay Whitby, the largest margin of victory in U.S. Amateur Four-Ball history.
For the second time in three days, play was suspended due to inclement weather, this time for 2 hours, 15 minutes. On Saturday, the championship suffered through three suspensions totaling 4 hours, 5 minutes.
Wong and Capan said the break recharged their energy. In fact, Capan took a power nap – “They’re underrated” – before enjoying a hearty lunch with his longtime buddy. The duo, which was 1 down through five holes at the time of the delay, immediately squared the match on the sixth hole when Capan got up and down from a greenside bunker for par. Wong, who is headed to Southern Methodist University this fall, followed with a beautiful 6-iron to 2½ feet on the par-3 ninth for a 1-up lead at the turn.
Burry, 22, of Quincy, Ill., and Wallace, 20, of Joliet, Ill., chipped in for a birdie on the 14th to square the match.
With the tees moved up 57 yards on No. 15, Wong nearly drove the green on the 364-yard hole. His pitch stopped 2 inches from the flagstick for a conceded birdie and a 1-up lead. On the next hole, Capan, a 2018 University of Alabama signee, stuffed his approach to 5 feet. When Wallace and Burry both missed their birdie tries from inside 12 feet, Capan drained his for a 2-up advantage. They closed out the match on 17 with a conceded birdie.
Poet, with one USGA championship under his belt (2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur) and his partner competing in his first, knew experience wasn’t on their side against Smith and White, who own six USGA championships and four Walker Cup appearances between them. But feeling no pressure, Poet and Collogan jumped out to a 3-up lead after nine holes before the weather suspension, with Collogan hitting a 6-iron on the par-3 ninth to 4 feet as the heavy rain pelted the course. Poet’s birdie on the par-5 13th kept the momentum going and the sides were shaking hands three holes later.
“With those guys, you better not sleep on the lead,” said Collogan.
Added Poet: “I probably felt less pressure. If you looked at it, you’d think Nathan (five USGA titles) and Todd, with what they’ve done in the past, they’re used to playing in these events. It made it easier for us to just go out and freewheel it.”
The remaining sides will compete in the Round of 16 on Tuesday morning, beginning with the first match at 7 a.m. on the Hills Course. The final Round-of-16 match is scheduled for 8:24 a.m. Sides that advance will play quarterfinal matches on Tuesday afternoon. The first of four matches is scheduled to tee off at 1 p.m. and will continue in 15-minute intervals. The semifinals and 18-hole championship match will be contested on Wednesday.
The 7-for-6 playoff Monday morning on the Village Course lasted seven holes with Danny Amundson, 32, of Sioux Falls, S.D., and Michael Martin, 34, of Scottsdale, Ariz., garnering the final spot in the match-play draw. Holes 1, 2 and 18 of the Village Course were utilized.
Steven Groover, 32, of Birmingham, Ala., and M. Tyler McKeever, 35, of Atlanta, Ga., defeated Chad Wilfong, 37, of Charlotte, N.C., and Davis Womble, 24, of Winston-Salem, N.C., in 23 holes, the longest match in championship history.
Oklahoma City natives Clark Collier and Kyle Hudelson, runners-up in last year’s championship, were eliminated by David Denham, of Athens, Ga., and Stuart Moore, of Gainesville, Ga., 5 and 3.
The other two semifinalists from 2017 each advanced. Marc Dull, 32, of Winter Haven, Fla., and Chip Brooke, 42, of Altamonte Springs, Fla., posted a 3-and-2 win, while full-time NHL referee Garrett Rank, 30, of Canada, and Patrick Christovich, 39, of New Orleans, La., earned a 4-and-3 victory.
Two other matches went 19 holes. Seattle University teammates and playoff survivors Kyle Cornet, 23, of Seattle, Wash., and Patrick Sato, 23, of Bellevue, Wash., ousted 2015 semifinalists Todd Mitchell and Scott Harvey. Harvey won the 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur and was a member of the 2015 USA Walker Cup Team. Torey Edwards, 36, of Long Beach, Calif., and Bret Parker, 38, of Huntington Beach, Calif., edged Washington State University teammates Zach Anderson and Derek Bayley. Bayley will be teeing it up in U.S. Open sectional qualifying on June 4.
Bobby Bucey on how the two-plus-hour weather delay benefited the side: “That actually helped us a little bit. We had just lost 6, and they just made a birdie, I think, on 5. We halved the hole with the birdie on 5 and they won 6 with a par. So it was nice to kind of regroup. We weren't hitting it great, so to get back in and be able to go hit some balls actually helped us a little bit this time.”
Bucey on getting the first match out of the way as the No. 1 seed: “It's for both of us the first time even making it to match play, so just to feel some of those [nerves] getting out there and feeling what it feels like to play in a match. I think getting that under our belts is going to be good, give us some confidence going into tomorrow.”
Ed Brown, 48, of Rehoboth Beach, Del., on the 7-and-6 loss to highly decorated juniors Garrett Barber and Cole Hammer: “That’s the cream of the crop right there. Our goal was to make it to match play, and we did that. Once you get into match play, it’s who you get, and if you get somebody that hot and hitting it that well, that’s just the luck of the draw.”
Frankie Capan on being the No. 31 seed: “[Stroke-play] scores don’t matter now. What were we last year? A seven seed? So we did fairly well. We feel pretty good about ourselves.”
Craig Poet on if people playfully tease him about his unique last name: “All the time. Oh, you know, everybody just asks me to do a poem. You’re a poet and you know it.”View results for U.S. Amateur Four-Ball