The semifinals are set for the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball
Sam Engel (left) and Brian Blanchard (USGA Photo)
Sam Engel (left) and Brian Blanchard (USGA Photo)

In just a few short months, the USGA’s inaugural U.S. National Junior Team has already produced a plethora of successful results.

Among the eight boys and 10 girls named to the squad, Asterisk Talley claimed a USGA championship (U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball) two weeks ago and on May 6 qualified for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open Presented by Ally. Gianna Clemente won this month’s American Junior Golf Association Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National against a stellar field, the 15-year-old high school freshman Miles Russell posted a top-20 finish in a Korn Ferry Tour event in his native Florida, and a few weeks later, Blades Brown, a 17-year-old rising high school junior, tied for 26th in the PGA Tour’s Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Classic.

On a sunny but breezy Tuesday at Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Wissahickon Course, Brown, of Nashville, Tenn., continued his march for USGA title No. 2 for the USNJT. Along with partner and fellow Tennessean Jackson Herrington, 18, of Dickson, the duo posted a pair of victories to reach the semifinals of the 9th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship.

In the quarterfinals, Brown and Herrington, who will play for the University of Tennessee in the fall, took out 2022 semifinalists Evan Beck, 33, of Virginia Beach, Va., and Dan Walters, 39, of Winston-Salem, N.C., 2 and 1. Beck was the 2023 U.S. Mid-Amateur and 2008 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up. Earlier on Tuesday, Brown and Herrington eliminated New Mexico State teammates Javier Delgadillo and Aidan Thomas, 5 and 3.

“It's been awesome,” said Brown of being a part of the groundbreaking U.S. National Development Program. “To be able to represent a nation … is incredible. And then to see all of my friends, Gianna, Miles, all these guys doing some amazing things fires me up and gives me fuel to go out and pursue and play really good golf.

“It's a huge honor to be able to be part of that team. Coach [Chris] Zambri, the head coach, he has been awesome. Very analytical. Helped me with course management.”

Brown and Herrington now face Furman University teammates Trey Diehl, 20, of Orlando, Fla., and Mac Scott, 22, of Birmingham, Ala., in the second of the two semifinals on Wednesday morning. The other semifinal will feature Scottsdale, Ariz., residents Sam Engel, 29, and Brian Blanchard, 31, against Floridians Will Davenport, 31, of Palm City, and Mike Smith, 33, of Ponte Vedra Beach.

Beck and Walters, who was his partner’s assistant coach at Wake Forest, jumped out to an early 2-up lead with a winning par on No. 1 and birdie at the 95-yard, par-3 third. Brown, No. 153 in the WAGR, and Herrington answered with wins on Nos. 4 and 5, the latter a birdie. With the match tied at the turn, Brown rolled in a 16-foot birdie at the par-3 10th to give the side the lead for good. That kickstarted a three-hole stretch of birdies by Brown that built the side’s lead to 3 up, including a chip-in on No. 11. Beck and Walters birdied the 13th to get one hole back, but the sides tied the remaining four holes with pars.  

“I knew more about the second guys because I had our walking scorer yesterday, he DM'd me on Instagram,” said Herrington of the side’s quarterfinal foes. “He was like, ‘Hey, these guys are really good with irons, so watch for that.’ That's all I really knew. I knew them because they were in front of us yesterday. We saw a little glimpse of them, but we didn't see much of anybody. We just stuck to our own game plan and went from there.” 

Diehl and Scott punched their ticket to the semis with a 3-and-1 victory over No. 2 seeds and ex-Middle Tennessee State teammates Payne Denman and Brett Patterson. The match swung when Diehl/Scott made three consecutive birdies from No. 6 to take a 2-up lead, which they maintained until closing out the match on the par-4 17th. The side birdied 16 and 17 and was the equivalent of 7 under par, with the usual match-play concessions.

In the Round of 16, they eliminated Tug Maude and John Sawin, 2 up.

“The course played a lot tougher today than the last couple days,” said Scott, who just recently returned to competitive golf after injuring his left wrist in December while playing intramural basketball. “This course is so long, and [the] pins felt a little tougher. We knew it was kind of going to be a grind.

[Our Round-of-16 match in the morning] was lots of pars. We were just kind of getting by with pars and a birdie every now and then. Then for whatever reason in the second match both teams were making putts, and it was kind of a mentality where we knew we were only going to win if we made birdies. I don't know if it that kind of kicked us into gear or we just played a little better.”

Blanchard and Engel only managed two birdies – Engel holed 15-footers on the par-5 seventh and 12th holes – en route to knocking out Michigan natives Bradley Bastion and Anthony Sorentino, 5 and 4. It’s the largest margin of victory in any quarterfinal match in the brief nine-year history of the championship. The Arizonans, who did not lose a hole, also managed winning pars on Nos. 2, 8 and 11.

Engel played collegiately at Cal State Northridge in the Los Angeles area, where he was a two-time Academic All-American. After graduating in 2017 with a degree in tourism/recreational management, the left-hander briefly tried mini-tour golf before regaining his amateur status in 2020. Last year, he won the Arizona Mid-Amateur.

Three years ago, he befriended Blanchard, who attended Arizona State but didn’t play on the golf team. He chose to focus on being a software engineer and has seen his game blossom post college. He qualified for the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur and 2018 U.S. Amateur.

“When I'm not playing golf, I'm sitting behind a desk writing code,” said Blanchard. “I just wanted to chase the Mid-Am a little bit when I graduated, so I joined a club (Desert Forest in Carefree) and started grinding, and now we're here.” 

Davenport has already experienced one USGA national championship, but that came as a caddie in the 2019 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Colorado Golf Club when he picked up the bag of Australian Lukas Michel after being eliminated in the Round of 64. The two had met when Davenport, a consultant for The Boston Group and former captain of the Yale University golf team, took a year off after graduation to live Down Under. Michel would become the first international winner of the Mid-Am.

That same year (2019), Davenport won the Philadelphia Mid-Amateur while taking post-graduate classes at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania en route to a master’s degree. While living in Philadelphia, he joined Whitemarsh Valley Country Club, just a short distance from Philadelphia Cricket Club, where he’s still a member.

He and Smith, an ex-James Madison University golfer who operates his own college recruiting advisory service, became friends competing in Florida events and have now qualified for three U.S. Amateur Four-Balls, including 2021 when Michel caddied for them at a Florida qualifier. But this is the first time they have qualified for match play.

“We’ve played a lot of good golf together in the state of Florida,” said Smith. “We know our good stuff is good. If we keep focused on what we’re doing, we’ll be OK.”

Cheered on by several Whitemarsh Valley members, Davenport and Smith rallied to defeat Michigan natives Ricky Shilts and Chester Vandenberg, 2 up. The duo fell 2 down after four holes, but Davenport converted a 25-foot birdie on No. 5 to turn the momentum. Birdies on seven and nine gave the side a 1-up lead, only to see Shilts and Vandenberg tie things up with a birdie on No. 11.

The deciding shot came from Smith on the par-4 16th when he stuffed a 122-yard wedge approach to 4 feet that set up a winning birdie. Davenport’s birdie putt was eventually conceded on the closing hole.

“Every time [the wind] blew I looked at him and said, this is it. This is what we want,” said Smith of the conditions that saw gusts as high as 25 miles per hour. “We’re beach boys”

Added Davenport: “Those coastal courses get a lot of wind exposure. We didn't under club a lot into the wind, which was big. We kept the ball in front of us, but we didn't underappreciate the value of the wind.”

When the match concluded, the two players, their caddies – Whitemarsh Valley’s Brian Borrmann for Davenport and incoming St. Joseph’s University freshman Aidan Farkas from nearby Ardmore – and some friends gathered on the green for a victory photo.

They hope for another one late on Wednesday afternoon, this time with the trophy in hand.

What's next

The semifinal matches will go off at 7 a.m. and 7:20 a.m. EDT, followed by the 18-hole championship match scheduled for 1 p.m. Admission is free, and spectators are encouraged to attend. Parking is available at nearby Chestnut Hill College with shuttle service to the golf course.

View results for U.S. Amateur Four-Ball
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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