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Player's Journal: Jeff Fortson at the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball
Jeff Fortson is journaling his week at Jupiter Hills (USGA photo)
Jeff Fortson is journaling his week at Jupiter Hills (USGA photo)

Editor's note: As a special to AmateurGolf.com, Jeff Fortson of Palm Desert, CA has decided to journal his experience playing in the U.S. Four-Ball Championship. This is his first entry.

On Thursday, I will be playing a practice round at Jupiter Hills Country Club, in Jupiter, Florida, at the 4th USGA Amateur Four-Ball Championship. This will be my second time playing in the event as my Four-Ball partner, Michael Walton, and I had the good fortune to have played in the inaugural championship held at The Olympic Club in 2015. That year we were lucky enough to have been given the first tee time in the championship’s history. It was a special honor to be in the first group that ever played in the event. While we played poorly and missed the cut at The Olympic Club, it was an unforgettable week and we are so excited to have another opportunity to play in it this year. Over the course of the coming week, I will be journaling my experience of playing in a USGA event.

Qualifying for the USGA Amateur Four-Ball is one of the toughest to qualify for in amateur golf. I think it is harder than qualifying for a USGA Mid-Amateur Championship. For middle-aged guys like Michael and I, we have to compete with collegiate and junior players on top of the good mid-am players. All 30+ year olds can attest to how difficult it can be taking on young, fresh competition. Pars simply don’t get it done. Both times Michael and I qualified for the USGA Amateur Four-Ball we had to shoot 63 and 64 respectively to make it. While at a USGA Mid-Amateur qualifier, you can usually play a little more conservative and shoot something around 70 to qualify. Plus, if one player on a side is off in the Four-Ball format it puts a huge burden on the other player to play exceptional golf. Michael can attest to that in this year’s qualifier.

Back in September, we played our qualifier at Apple Valley Golf Course in Apple Valley, CA. It’s a medium length course, par 70, where the wind can blow. 29 teams showed up with only two spots available. As I scraped it around the course, Michael played solid and we made the turn at 2-under. After two pars on 10 & 11, a volunteer asked how we were playing. I dejectedly told him we were 2-under and he said, “I haven’t heard of any team better than that through 11 yet.” I thought “game on!” I shared this with Michael and he proceeded to rattle off three straight birdies on 12, 13, and 14 getting us to 5-under. After Michael hit his only poor tee shot of the day on 15, I needed to step up and make a par at worst. I proceeded to three-putt from 30 feet for bogey. I saved face by making a good par on 16 and holing a 40-foot birdie putt on 17 to get us back to 5-under. Michael then hit two clutch shots on the par 5, 18th and made a stress free two-putt birdie to get us in at 6-under, 64 for the day. After an hour wait, we official finished solo 2nd place and had qualified for the championship for our second time. I definitely must have felt heavy on Michael’s back that day and so thankful he played well.

Related: FINAL: 2018 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Qualifying Roundup

This will be my 6th (4 US Mid-Amateurs & 1 US Four-Ball) and Michael’s 5th (1 US Amateur, 2 US Mid-Amateurs & 1 US Four-Ball) USGA Championship. For those that haven’t qualified for a USGA Championship, I encourage you to keep trying. USGA events are the pinnacle of amateur golf and the USGA, the host clubs, and the countless volunteers truly make you feel special. From the second you check-in at registration everything is 1st class.

From the locker room, to the food and beverage, to the pro shop, you will be treated like a member. Not enough thank you letters can be written to a host club, their staff, and membership for all they do for us lucky enough to play in a USGA Championship. So much work is put into them and it is something not enough people recognize. Whatever one’s opinions are about the decisions the USGA makes at their championships or about the rules, there is no denying that they take pride in their championships and work very hard to make them exceptional experiences for the players.

A USGA Championship course prep and set-up are second to none. Your game will be examined thoroughly and it will expose your weaknesses. Courses are usually fast and firm (barring rain) and the greens are usually rolling at 12+ on the Stimpmeter. I anticipate the main course (Hills Course) to be stretched out and extremely challenging. The Co-Host stroke play course (Village Course) looks to be shorter than a usual USGA course but I suspect they will have it prepared to challenge a player’s course management.

On Thursday night, the USGA hosts a Player’s Dinner for all the participants, which usually includes a guest speaker (I’ve seen Lou Holtz and Michael Bloomberg speak at two prior championships). The reception also gives the players a chance to meet each other and tell stories. They are usually very enjoyable and add a fun element to the week. On Sunday evening, the USGA hosts a player BBQ following the stroke play portion of the tournament where the player can bring guests, which is also a nice touch. It gives you a chance to socialize a bit with players you have met throughout the week about either having missed the cut or how you played your way into match play. I’ve made some wonderful friendships with guys at USGA events and look forward to that aspect of being there as much as the tournament itself.

Neither Michael, nor I have played the courses at Jupiter Hills Country Club. We are both used to Bermuda grass so I anticipate us feeling comfortable on the greens. We will cram as much information about the courses as we can during our practice rounds. Tee times have been released and we will be playing the stroke play portion of the event with two well-known mid-ams, Scott Harvey and Todd Mitchell.

Related: USGA announces U.S Amateur Four-Ball Tee Times

Hopefully, I will be journaling beyond the stroke play portion of the tournament. No matter what, I already know we are in for a fun, memorable week, as are all 256 of the competitors playing. Having a partner to share the experience with is so much fun and too often a rarity in tournament golf. I can say with certainty that the USGA Amateur Four-Ball Championship is my favorite tournament due to the camaraderie of getting to play with your buddy. It takes a little bit of the pressure off and lets you breathe a little easier. I look forward to sharing that experience over the course of the week.

PS: Big thank you to our wives and families for letting us leave for a week to play this silly game. It means a lot to us.

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 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

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