Sam Engel and Brian Blanchard win the U.S. Four-Ball in their first attempt
Sam Engel (left) and Brian Blanchard (USGA Photo)
Sam Engel (left) and Brian Blanchard (USGA Photo)

A couple of software guys from Arizona took home the hardware on Wednesday at the 9th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Wissahickon Course.

Scottsdale residents Brian Blanchard, 31, and his 29-year-old, left-handed partner Sam Engel – affectionately called Team Software – defeated a pair of talented teenagers from Tennessee, Blades Brown, 17, of Nashville, and 18-year-old Jackson Herrington, of Dickson, 2 up, in the 18-hole championship match.

Engel becomes the 10th southpaw to win a USGA championship, but the first in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball history. Two female lefties have claimed titles in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball, Erica Shepherd (2019) and Thienna Huynh (2022). This was the first time in history that two lefties were in a USGA final, as Herrington is also a southpaw.

This was also the first time that Blanchard and Engel had qualified for match play in their combined three previous USGA starts: the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur and 2018 U.S. Amateur for Blanchard, and 2023 U.S. Mid-Amateur for Engel.

“It's why we grind,” said Blanchard. “It's why we're out there after work until it gets dark, grinding all day. I think he has a little more confidence than me. But here we are. I appreciate Sam for bringing his really strong confidence this week and helping the team to victory.”

Added Engel, an account executive who is about to start with a new software company: “I think having your partner there with you, it's a good place to start.  I think we both definitely believe in our games, but having the support is nice. It's hard to qualify for USGA championships, and if you don't have your best, best stuff, you go home.  There's a lot of really great players. We brought it this week, and obviously awesome to ultimately bring home the hardware.”

Blanchard, a software engineer at Workida who did not play golf while attending Arizona State University, and Engel, a two-time Academic All-American at Cal State Northridge who briefly tried the mini-tour life before regaining his amateur status in 2020, seized momentum midway through the back nine. Blanchard rolled in a 30-foot birdie on the par-4 13th hole, and Engel followed by stuffing his 52-degree wedge approach from 125 yards to a foot for a conceded birdie on No. 14, giving the side a 2-up lead.

Herrington and Brown did their best to try and force extra holes. Herrington’s 96-yard gap wedge stopped 5 feet from the hole, setting up a winning birdie to send the match to the 18th hole, a dogleg-left par 4 that the teenagers had not played since stroke play last Saturday. Meanwhile, Blanchard and Engel had gone the distance in three of their four previous matches, including the morning semifinal win.

Brown, who’s a rising high school junior at Brentwood Academy, a member of the inaugural U.S. National Junior Team and who recently made the cut at the PGA Tour’s Myrtle Beach Classic, ripped a 350-plus yard drive to the bottom of the hill, setting up a 98-yard approach with his 54-degree wedge. Engel had already stuffed his approach to 10 feet, meaning the Tennesseans needed a birdie to force extra holes. 

Brown’s approach spun back to 16 feet, while Herrington’s shot from the left rough came up short of the putting surface.

The lefty’s pitch from long range also stopped short, leaving it up to his partner, who last August became the youngest stroke-play medalist in U.S. Amateur history, surpassing a mark held by Bob Jones for 103 years. After studying every angle of the putt, Brown made a perfect stroke, and as the ball approached the hole, it look like it might sneak in over the left edge. Instead, it stopped less than an inch away, as Brown dropped to his knees.

 “I found out that this is my four-ball partner for life,” said a gracious Brown of Herrington, who will attend the University of Tennessee this fall. “Golf is so mental.  Coming down the stretch, I felt like Jackson and I were mentally prepared to battle. Unfortunately, we didn't get it done this time, but we're going to come back.”

The match see-sawed back in forth over the first 12 holes, but Engel and Blanchard never trailed. Blanchard’s 3½-footer on No. 1 put the side up early, only to see Brown drain a 9-footer on three to tie it back up. After Herrington laced a 220-yard, 8-iron approach on No. 7 to set up a 12-foot eagle putt, Engel answered by holing out from a greenside bunker on No. 8 to retake a 1-up lead. It stayed that way until the par-5 12th, when Brown two-putted for birdie to tie it up, setting up the heroics by Blanchard and Engel on 13 and 14.

“We work really hard at our games, and we play a lot of tournaments back home in Arizona,” said Engel, the 2023 Arizona Mid-Amateur champion. “We travel around and play as well. But we were ready to go this week.  We've been super excited about this tournament. We qualified in September last year.  Brian totally carried me in the qualifier. We were happy to be here. We just knew if we put our best foot forward and hit some good shots, we'd be hard to beat.”

In the semifinals on Wednesday morning, Brown and Herrington jumped out to a 3-up advantage through the first eight holes against Furman University teammates Trey Diehl, of Orlando, Fla., and Mac Scott, of Birmingham, Ala., in posting a 4-and-3 win.

“I heard about Blades from when he played in that PGA Tour event [in Myrtle Beach, S.C.] and made the cut and everything. I wasn't familiar with Jackson, but he really impressed me with his game.  He made a lot of putts, hits it really far. He's got a bright future ahead of him, so I think both those guys are going to be pretty solid professional players one day. I wish we could have given them a better shot, maybe beaten them, but it was fun.”

Blanchard and Engel never led until the 18th hole of their semifinal match against Floridians Will Davenport and Mike Smith. They rallied from an early 2-down hole to tie the match with a par on the challenging 219-yard, uphill, par-3 15th hole. Two holes later, both hit remarkable approach shots to within 10 feet – Blanchard from a fairway bunker and Engel from the left rough.

Smith, who operates his own college recruiting advisory service to help high school golfers make decisions about their playing future, was the only one in the fairway. He thought he hit a perfect 7-iron approach from 186 yards, only to see it come up short in a greenside bunker. He left his third in the bunker and knocked the fourth to 4 feet. Davenport, a financial consultant for The Boston Group, also failed to get up and down for par from left-greenside rough, and they immediately removed their hats and conceded the two birdie putts.

“I was a little out of position off the tee and Mike hit a really nice shot that could have just as easily covered the bunker and left him a good [birdie] look,” said Davenport, a former Yale University golf captain who is a member at nearby Whitemarsh Valley Country Club. “Hats off to their finish.”

What the Champions Receive
- Gold medals
- Custody of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Trophy for one year
- Exemptions into the next 10 U.S. Amateur Four-Balls, provided the side remains intact
- Exemption into the 2024 U.S. Amateur at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.
- Exemption into the 2024 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Kinloch Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot, Va.
- Names inscribed on a plaque for the 2024 USGA champions that resides in the USGA Golf Museum’s Hall of Champions in Liberty Corner, N.J.

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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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