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USGA Does The Math: Addition And Subtraction

Make no mistake about it: the creation of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championships is USGA Executive Director Mike Davis’ baby. And at a time when the USGA is being criticized from numerous quarters, you have to applaud his determination to launch two national amateur championships that will resonate very well with amateurs across the country. There are still a few blanks to ill in, but what is known is that a sectional qualifying process will be employed, feeding a national championship consisting of 128 men’s and 64 women’s teams. It’s unlikely that all of the qualifying will occur in the same calendar year as the championship proper. The minimum handicap index for men will be 5.4, and 14.4 for women. Other than that, there are no restrictions; mom and daughter can enter, as can old college teammates who live on opposite sides of the country, and the terrific twosome that is largely undefeated at your club. The championship will be played in the spring beginning in 2015, allowing the USGA to visit southern states, which typically are avoided during the championship season due to heat. This timing will also likely eliminate widespread participation by college players, who will be in the midst of the spring college season. An announcement of sites for the two events could come in the near future. In essence, the USGA is making a national championship out of the game most of us play with our regular crew: four-ball. It is a concept that Davis has had in his mind for many years. Now, less than two years into his term as USGA head honcho, he has added the first new events to the docket in 25 years. After getting executive committee proceed, the USGA staff had to get a buy-in from the state and regional golf associations. After all, they are going to have to run the qualifiers. And for most of them, four-ball competition is a staple of their competitive calendar, arguably the most popular event of the year. The input received in this process was critical in the building of the championships, according to John Bodenhamer, senior managing director of Rules, Competitions, and Equipment Standards and a former state golf association man himself. Bodenhamer expects that, similar to the state level experience, many players will enjoy an USGA championship for the first time. The retirement of the Amateur Public Links Championship and the Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship after 2014, sadly made simultaneously with the Four-Ball announcement, is unrelated. Both moves were subject to extensive deliberation, according to USGA Vice President Tom O’Toole, and only came together as each decision moved toward finalization. The men’s Publinks was established in 1922 to provide daily fee golfers their own national championship. At the time, the U.S. Amateur was restricted to players from USGA member clubs, almost all of which were private. But when the USGA decided in 1979 to allow public course players into the men’s Amateur Championship, the dynamic changed. Public course players now had access to all USGA championships. I remember covering the 2011 U.S. Publinks at Bandon Dunes. It was an unusual tournament because, for the first time, the men and women played together at one facility. But I couldn’t help but think  then that, despite the grandeur of Bandon, the tournament had the feel of just another college tournament. A second tier college event at that, as many of the best players were ineligible. The USGA came to realize that the Publinx had outlived its time and strayed from its original intent. “It was the right decision at the right time,” O’Toole told The Post. Retiring the men’s Publinx means the loss of an amateur spot at The Masters, but close observers of the amateur game have always scratched their head about the Publinx winner’s berth at Augusta National. While there have been worthy winners such as Ryan Moore, Brandt Snedeker and Tim Clark, often times the winner of the tournament was unheralded and not “Masters worthy.” There was a time when all U.S. Amateur semifinalists were invited to The Masters, along with the Walker Cup teams from both America and Great Britain & Ireland. This was a reflection of Augusta National founder Bobby Jones’ desire to honor the amateur game. Today, just five amateurs are typically invited: the winners of the U.S, British, and Asian Amateurs, the U.S. Amateur runner up, and the U.S. Mid-Amateur champion. Perhaps in light of this decision, The Masters will go back in time and invite all U.S. Amateur semifinalists. As we have seen lately, in the Billy Payne era, anything is possible at Augusta National. The Four-Ball Championship announcement is the second of two moves in this young year that reaffirms the USGA’s commitment to the amateur game. Last month, Far Hills announced that the 2013 Walker Cup team will include at least two mid-amateurs. While some in the American golf community seem to want to draw the USGA into a prolonged argument about bifurcation, the organization seems determined to plow ahead and do what it does best: conduct national championships, most of which are for amateurs.


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