Player's Journal: Jeff Fortson at the U.S. Four-Ball, Part 5
Jeff Fortson is journaling his week at Jupiter Hills (USGA photo)
Jeff Fortson is journaling his week at Jupiter Hills (USGA photo)

Editor's note: As a special to AmateurGolf.com, Jeff Fortson of Palm Desert, CA has decided to journal his experience playing in the U.S. Four-Ball Championship. This is his final entry.

Considering I was going to have to spend a significant amount of money to change my flight and rental car arrangements, I chose to stay until Thursday following my departure from the tournament. I have played in 6 USGA championships but had never stayed past the second round of match play in any of them to watch as a spectator. I thought this was a good opportunity to see how good the quality of golf was by those that made it to match play and to also see how the course held up after over 7 inches of rain through the course of the week.

On Monday, my partner, Mike Walton, and I decided to play a casual round of golf in the area. On Tuesday, Mike flew home and I went back to the club to go watch a little bit of the Round of 16 and Quarterfinal matches. I was treated to some great golf and the Jupiter Hills Club is a fantastic venue for spectating. The Hills course architectural design has two hills that George Fazio utilized for green sites and teeing grounds giving the routing good vantage points to watch from and also allows for people to not have to walk far to watch multiple holes. The green complexes are solid and strategically interesting but those two hill sites are what really provide the course its character. It is a great championship venue worthy of future championships should their membership want them.

The Hills Course at the Jupiter Hills Club really held up condition-wise remaining fast and firm the entire week. Mike and I marveled at how we never once caught a “mud ball” when you consider how much rain the course received. It might be the finest draining facility I have ever seen. The USGA were changing up the tee boxes in match play trying to get players out of their comfort zones and force them to quickly calculate strategies from teeing grounds they had not played from yet. The grounds crew at the Jupiter Hills Club should be commended for what a spectacular job they did in providing a world-class challenge and incredible turf conditions.

Today (Wednesday) I witnessed something I had not seen before, the final match of a USGA championship. I have been to numerous tournaments, including three majors, but had never watched a USGA trophy handed to a winner. In this case, in front of about 100 spectators, it was Cole Hammer and Garrett Barber that were handed the trophy and gold medals for winning the 4th USGA Amateur Four-Ball Championship. Their mid-amateur aged opponents Chip Brooke and Marc Dull, both Florida residents, won some gutsy matches to get to the finals and played some good golf against the two junior phenoms but it wasn’t enough to overcome some of the best golf I’ve seen in a long time. Hammer and Barber were hitting irons close to the hole throughout match and hitting fantastic shots around the green when they weren’t. It would have taken a perfect effort on almost any team’s part to beat them. If I am not mistaken, Hammer and Barber never played past the 16th hole in their five matches, which speaks to how incredible they played all week.

What I took most from being a spectator in the match play portion of this event is how good amateur golf is. I would really like to see a push made to give amateur golf the respect and interest that it should. The quality of golf is unbelievable. While it may not be at professional tour levels, it is pretty darn close. If golf fans got to know more of the players and personalities I think we could see a renaissance in interest in the amateur game. Spectators can attend for free at basically every amateur event. They also can walk the fairways with the players and listen to their conversations with their caddies and opponents. It is such an awesome opportunity for people that love golf to see how high level players play without fighting crowds, high ticket prices, and watching from far away. Plus, most of the best amateur events will give spectators the ability to see golf played on the real classics and architectural gems of the world. Most PGA Tour events are played at courses that are chosen for their ability to handle a large crowd. In the amateur game, most of the courses are chosen for their architectural strength.

Like I said in my last post, those of you questioning whether or not you are good enough to enter a USGA qualifier… enter it. Keep entering. Enter your state, regional or city amateur. Enter your club championship. The payoff is wonderful. I spent the better part of 30 years trying to get to the national level. I didn’t qualify for my first USGA championship until I was 36 years old. It took me much longer than most. But it was worth it. Now having seen the caliber of play deep into a USGA event, I want to get even better so I can experience that.

Previous Journal Entries:

Part 4: Playing with a USGA champion, what it's like when your swing abandons you, and appreciation for the experience

Part 3: registration, a practice round with bombers, meeting Tom Fazio, balcony shots, and an Uber driving comedian

Part 2: A travel nightmare, meeting the hosts, and hope despite a threatening weather forecast

Part 1: the upcoming U.S. Four-Ball, the difficulty of qualifying, and what it's like to play in a USGA event

ABOUT THE U.S. Amateur Four-Ball

The U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, the newest USGA championship, was played for the first time in 2015 at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif. The event, which has no age restriction, is open to those with a Handicap Index of 5.4 or lower. It is one of 14 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

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