Danny Young and John Blackwell at the International Four-Ball
But for a few minutes together on the driving range, John Blackwell and Danny Young had little idea what to expect from the other when they teed off at Mayacoo Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Feb. 11. Three ensuing rounds at the International Four-Ball were remarkably successful, considering. In the end, both men claimed their first win in the event alongside an unfamiliar partner.
“We did basic four-ball stuff,” said Young, a 35-year-old property manager/commercial real estate developer who bounces around South Florida. But that equated to opening rounds of 6-under 66, a closing round of 69 and ultimately a six-shot win in a field that included 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Matt Parziale. They made it look easy, but it was hardly basic.
Last week marked the first time either Blackwell or Young had logged a win in the event, even though both have played it a handful of times. For as much success as they had together, the two men couldn’t be more different. It’s just that Thomas Parker, an agent for several PGA Tour players and Blackwell’s original partner, didn’t see it that way. When back pain prevented him from playing, he made the phone call that set up the new team.
“You all should match up well,” Blackwell, a 45-year-old insurance broker from Wilmington, N.C., remembered Parker saying.
“It took us a couple holes to get to know each other,” Blackwell said. “Through about four or five holes, I noticed he was really focused and real gritty and that pumped me up. I was glad to know that I had a real competitive partner.”
It was a slow start, but then a streak of birdies put Young and Blackwell on a trajectory that carried them through the rest of the event. Even playing alongside Parziale, a juggernaut of mid-amateur golf, Young’s and Blackwell’s game shone.
Young’s grit may be a product of sheer rounds played. He’s not much for the range – in fact, he says you couldn’t pay him to spend much time there – but his game is the kind that’s honed by an absurd amount of daily competition.
“I play more golf than any human on the planet,” Young said, admitting he logged 400 rounds in 2018. Many of those came at top South Florida venues like the Bear’s Club, Medalist and the Floridian, and he often plays 36 in a day alongside the caliber of player you might expect to find at such gems.
Golf figures heavily into Young’s day job, but there’s more to it than that. Young is like many career amateurs, with his eye one goal: not just qualify for the U.S. Mid-Amateur, which he did in 2014, 17 and 18, but make match play. That he has yet to do.
“It drives me insane,” he said. “If I make match play, I know I’m tough because I’m never out of the hole.”
Young is tough in a four-ball setting for the same reason, and Blackwell can attest to that. With your partner always in play, it frees you up to go after birdies.
Young is a self-made player who has never had a lesson, but Blackwell is totally opposite. He has benefitted in recent years from work with Craig Harmon, a swing coach in Delray Beach, Fla., whose older brother is renowned teacher Butch Harmon. The Harmon-Blackwell partnership was another Thomas Parker setup.
Parker and Blackwell’s friendship dates back to the North Carolina junior-golf scene. When Blackwell went through a slump with his game as he approached 40, he originally chalked it up to age. He mentioned to Parker that he needed a good lesson, and Parker sent him in Harmon’s direction. That was four years ago, and Blackwell has seen him a handful of times since.
Blackwell can’t understate the way his game has changed.
“(Craig's) approach to the game and the way he teaches it, I was able to really pull from his advice,” he said. “He kind of took a liking to my game and he was very complimentary and basically gave me a lot of things that he felt would help me get to the next level.”
For as different as Blackwell and Young are, you might say that both are late bloomers in golf. Blackwell was a talented collegian at Wofford College, and made it to the 2004 U.S. Amateur in a qualifier that also included J.B. Holmes and Webb Simpson. He just didn’t make it back to a USGA championship until the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur. While he owns 10 club championships and two Wilmington City Amateurs, the Four-Ball is easily his biggest victory.
As for Young, he didn’t really take to the game until after college, when he moved to Florida and could play year-round.
“I’m very unique – my game,” he said. “I’ve never had a lesson, I have a goofy grip and I probably just play along a golf course in my own fashion.”
If their performance at the International Four-Ball proved anything, though, it’s as Young says – on a given day, you can beat anybody. For three consecutive days in South Florida, “anybody” just happened to be a USGA champion.
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ANOTHER WIN FOR COLLEGE GOLF
: For the first time in the 19-year history of the Prestige, one of the West Coast’s premier college-golf tournaments, play will be streamed live. It’s a major win not just for the event but for the sport. The announcement came on the heels of news that another West Coast college event, the Western Intercollegiate, will find a spot on Golf Channel in May.
At the Prestige, played at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., second- and third-round action will be live-streamed on Golfweek.com. Veteran broadcasters Will Haskett and Steve Scott will call the action, with longtime Golfweek
college expert Lance Ringler providing interviews and analysis. Audiences can tune in at Golfweek.com/ThePrestige on Feb. 19-20 to watch.
The Prestige includes a strong 15-team field, with top-ranked Oklahoma State in the mix.
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EYE ON THE AMATEURS
: The week began at Riviera with the Genesis Open Collegiate Showcase, in which Kentucky senior Lukas Euler was the last collegian standing after 18 holes. That earned Euler a start in this week’s PGA Tour event.
Euler, the only amateur in the field, finished 5 over and missed the cut by five shots. In an interesting bit of symmetry, winner J.B. Holmes is a former Kentucky player, too.
Across the world at the Australian Women’s Open, six amateurs teed it up but none made the cut. Japan’s Yuri Yoshida, No. 49 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, was 3 over for 36 holes, which was the best performance among the six.
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ON TO BIGGER THINGS
: As AmateurGolf.com reported last fall, Yealimi Noh was destined for the pros after putting together the hottest summer of arguably any amateur golfer in the game. Noh turned down invitations to play both the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the ANA Inspiration (as an amateur) in order to pursue those plans.
Already, Noh has finished 53rd in the Taiwan Women’s Open and T-8 at a Cactus Tour event in Litchfield Park, Ariz., while playing as a professional. Still, she made this announcement on Instagram on Feb. 12:
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TOURNAMENTS TO WATCH
The Prestige, Greg Norman Course at PGA West, La Quinta, Calif., Feb. 18-20
Even if it wasn’t being livestreamed by Golfweek
(see above), this event would be one for amateur golf fans’ radar. In addition to top-ranked Oklahoma State, the field includes top-20 teams Pepperdine, Arkansas and LSU, plus Oregon, Northwestern and Stanford in the top 50.
Gasparilla Invitational, Palma Ceia G&CC, Tampa, Fla., Feb. 21-23
An amateur tournament that grew from the Gasparilla Open, a professional event that dates to the 1930s. A favorite stop for U.S. mid-amateur champions. Scott Harvey (2014 U.S. Mid-Am champ) won the Gasparilla in 2015 and Marc Dull (2015 U.S. Mid-Am runner-up) is the defending champion.
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STAT OF THE WEEK
: With its Feb. 12 win at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic, Kent State piled on its third win of the 2018-19 season. While that alone is impressive, it’s another state that stands out about the Golden Flashes. In three other events this season, Kent State has finished runner-up each time. That means the team has recorded only three losses on the season, and each one was to a top-50 team.
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TWEET OF THE WEEK
: VISIONS OF THE 2017 U.S. AMATEUR