Kiko Francisco Coehlo (left) and Leopoldo Herrera III
The 2021 summer competition calendar just got a little busier for Kiko Francisco Coelho and Leopoldo Herrera III. The two Florida teenagers earned their way into the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club with a dramatic 19-hole victory over Canadians and University of Nevada teammates Brendan MacDougall, 23, and Sam Meek, 21, in Wednesday’s championship match of the 6th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Chambers Bay.
Earlier this year, the USGA upgraded the exemption categories for its two Four-Ball competitions, adding spots to the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur, as well as any other age-specific championships for which the champions are eligible. The Portuguese-born Coelho, 18, of Lake Mary, Fla., also is in the field for the U.S. Junior Amateur in July at The Country Club of North Carolina.
“It sounds amazing,” said Herrera. “I knew we could do it. I kept telling [Kiko], I know we can do it; we're going to be hard to beat. We were tough as nails out there.”
Neither Herrera, 19, of Doral, Fla., nor Coelho, the 2020 Florida State Golf Association Junior Player of the Year, had ever competed in a USGA championship before this week. Coelho becomes the second foreign-born player to etch his name on the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Trophy, joining 2017 winner Shuai Ming Wong, of Hong Kong, China (with American Frankie Capan). He is the first player from Portugal to claim a USGA championship.
The two formed a partnership after Coelho, who moved to the U.S. two years ago and plans to enroll at Arizona State in the fall, edged Herrera, a rising sophomore at Central Florida, by three strokes to win the 2020 FSGA Junior Amateur. Herrera, whose parents were born in Venezuela, is a member of the Venezuelan national golf team.
“Yeah, no words can describe [the feelings I have],” said Coehlo. “We came here, we knew we could win. We had a really good team. We just played solid all week.”
Wednesday’s final was the first championship match to go extra holes in the six editions of the competition.
With the match tied on the 605-yard 18th hole, it looked grim for Herrera and Coelho when MacDougall nearly holed out a 40-yard pitch shot. The tap-in birdie was conceded, forcing either Coelho or Herrera to convert a birdie putt. Coelho missed from 20 feet, but Herrera made his 14-footer, punching the air with his right arm and exhorting his partner to “Come on!”
“Yeah, it just shows what a goofy game this is,” said MacDougall. “I hit what I thought was a perfect shot, did what I needed to, and if it goes in it's a different story, and same thing, if our opponent doesn't make that putt on 18 it's a different story. Props to [Leopoldo], he hit the putt he needed to when he needed to. They earned it. Good for them.”
On the 19th hole, the 555-yard, par-5 first hole at Chambers Bay, MacDougall hit a wayward tee shot and eventually picked up his ball. His partner Meek laced his drive and hit his second shot to the fringe of the green. Coehlo reached the green in two, while Herrera was just off the putting surface. Coelho lagged to 2 feet and holed his short birdie putt.
After Herrera missed his eagle try, Meek had 4 feet for birdie to continue the match. The putt rolled just to the left, as Meek crouched over in disbelief.
It was the end of a long day for Meek, 21, and the 23-year-old MacDougall, who played 41 holes of golf – two 19-hole matches and three holes from Tuesday’s suspended quarterfinal match.
Seeking to become the first Nevada players to win a USGA championship since Casey Watabu stunned future PGA Tour winner Anthony Kim in the 36-hole final of the 2006 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, the Canadians rallied from a 2-down deficit through 11 holes by making birdies on both par 3s on the back nine. MacDougall holed a 15-footer on 15 and another 12-footer on 17 to tie the match.
In Wednesday morning’s semifinals, Coehlo and Herrera registered two birdies and pair of eagles during a four-hole stretch on the front nine en route to eliminating Notre Dame teammates Davis Chatfield, 21, of Attleboro, Mass., and 2019 U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist Palmer Jackson, 20, of Murrysville, Pa., 2 and 1.
“You know it’s not going to last forever,” said Chatfield, “but we stuck with it and fought our way to the very end and tried to hit as many good shots as possible.”
MacDougall and Meek posted three consecutive birdies from No. 17 to defeat Loyola Chicago University teammates Tyler Anderson, 21, of Mundelein, Ill., and Devin Johnson, 22, of Elburn, Ill., in 19 holes in the other semifinal. MacDougall forced extra holes with a 6-foot birdie on the par-5 18th after Johnson had flown his second shot just over the green and failed to get up and down for birdie.
Meek rolled in a 25-foot birdie on the par-5 first hole to close out the match.
“Obviously coming out here and making it to the semifinals, I'm really happy with that,” said Johnson, the 2021 Missouri Valley Conference champion. “I'm sure I'll look back at that and take it as an accomplishment, but for now, we lost, and we've still got things to work on.”
What the Champions Receive
A gold medalCustody of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Trophy for one yearA 10-year exemption from qualifying for the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, provided the side remains intactExemptions into the 2021 U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club
The runners-up each receive silver medals, plus exemptions into the next three U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championships. The 2022 event is scheduled for May 14-18 at the Country Club of Birmingham (Ala.). The 2023 championship will be staged May 20-24 at Kiawah Island (S.C.) Club and the 2024 competition will be played May 25-29 at Philadelphia (Pa.) Cricket Club. The two semifinal losers each received bronze medals, plus exemptions into the next two U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championships. Entries for the 7th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship will open the week of June 7 and close on Aug. 11 at 5 p.m. EDT. To view qualifying sites, click here. A total of 52 Chambers Bay caddies were utilized for the championship. Charles Waggoner, who started looping at the course in 2008, and Steve Knoppi, a three-year veteran, carried the bag for finalists Kiko Francisco Coelho and Leopoldo Herrera III, respectively. The suspended quarterfinal match was completed on Wednesday morning with Brendan MacDougall and Sam Meek prevailing, 1 up, over Blake Hathcoat and Michael Slesinski. The latter side, teammates at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., had played the longest match in U.S. Amateur Four-Ball history on Tuesday morning in the Round of 16, a 25-hole contest that lasted nearly eight hours. Leopoldo Herrera has dropped out of Central Florida and is planning to turn professional in September. The 89 holes played by Herrera/Coehlo was the most played by a championship side, surpassing the 85 played by 2016 champions Benjamin Baxter and Andrew Buchanan at Winged Foot.
“To be honest this is just the best that could happen. To my schedule, no qualifier [for the U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Amateur] really fit my schedule, so now I can just play the tournaments I was planning to and not have to worry about qualifying.” – Kiko Francisco Coehlo on earning the exemptions for winning the title
“I was telling the caddie after [MacDougall’s pitch lipped], there was no way that ball shouldn't have gone in. And the fact that it didn't told me right away, all right, this is my moment, like this is going to happen. They gave us a chance. They opened the door, and I was stepping up on that putt. [My] putting terrible today. I didn't make a putt. I just told myself, ‘Look, I'm just going to look at it [and] not think about it.’ I'm shaking over this putt. I just rolled it and trusted it. Trust is huge. I just let it happen.” – Leopoldo Herrera III on his mindset for the birdie putt on 18 that forced extra holes
“Yeah, it [stings]. I feel like I did what I needed to do to make it. I thought I put a good enough stroke on it to go in, and it just sat there. I mean, it's tough, but we'll be all right.” – Sam Meek on the 4-foot birdie miss on the 19th hole that ended the final match
“On the holes where guys were making birdies, both teams made birdies, and on the holes where pins were tough, both of us made par, and we needed to capitalize a little bit more on the more difficult holes, but we did what we could.” – Palmer Jackson on the 3-and-2 semifinal loss
“No event I've ever played in before has been like this, so it was one for the books for sure.” – Tyler Anderson after reaching the semifinals in his first USGA championship
View results for U.S. Amateur Four-Ball