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Three sides medal as U.S. Amateur Four-Ball bracket set
Derek Ackerman, in red, with partner Matthew McCarty, right (USGA/Steve Gibbons)
Derek Ackerman, in red, with partner Matthew McCarty, right (USGA/Steve Gibbons)

Thirteen proved to be a lucky number for three sides on Sunday in the 5th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship.

Texans Derek Abel and Christopher Wheeler joined New Jersey residents Troy Vannucci and Vince Kwon, and former Santa Clara University teammates Derek Ackerman and Matthew McCarty as co-medalists after posting 36-hole stroke-play totals of 13-under-par 128.

Abel, 36, of Dallas, and Wheeler, 36, of Addison, matched the championship 18-hole record with a 62 on stroke-play co-host Pacific Dunes after shooting a 5-under 66 on Old Macdonald on Saturday. Vannucci, 27, and Kwon, 25, both of Marlton, posted a second consecutive 64, this time on Pacific Dunes, while Ackerman, 22, of Santa Clara, Calif., and McCarty, 21, of Scottsdale, Ariz., followed up Saturday’s 63 on Old Macdonald with a 65 on Pacific Dunes.

Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald, two of the 18-hole layouts at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, were used for the stroke-play portion of the competition. The field of 128 sides will be trimmed to 32 for match play, all on Old Macdonald. The cut for match play came at 6-under 135, with seven sides playing off for the final four spots in the draw Monday morning at 7 a.m. PDT on Old Macdonald.

Conditions changed drastically from Saturday to Sunday, with overcast skies and intermittent rain being replaced by sunshine and stronger breezes. Temperatures also got into the upper 50s from just barely cracking 50 during Round 1.

“It was a lot breezier today,” said Ackerman, who will graduate from Santa Clara in two weeks. “Yesterday, it was about as easy conditions as you can have, other than the rain.”

Abel and Wheeler, former mini-tour players who regained their amateur status in 2016 and 2012, respectively, certainly enjoyed the conditions, registering five birdies over their first six holes, including four in a row from No. 1. None of the converted birdie putts were more than 10 feet. At that point, both players knew they were all but into match play, which eased any tension.

“We really didn’t have a number in mind, but we got to a point where we didn’t have to worry about the cut or anything like that,” said Wheeler. “We were just having fun, basically.”

Abel and Wheeler have known each other for 20-plus years, having grown up together in junior golf and then traveling the mini-tour circuit for four years.

“We kind of know each other’s game really, really well, so … we’ll start to forget it’s a tournament and play like we do on the weekends [back home],” said Abel.

Kwon, a caddie at Philadelphia Cricket Club, site of the 2020 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, and Merion Golf Club (2022 Curtis Cup and 2026 U.S. Amateur), and Vannucci also got off to a hot start on Sunday with three consecutive birdies. They had a similar streak Saturday, making four birdies in a row from the 14th hole on Old Macdonald. The side added birdies on Nos. 14, 17 and 18, with Vannucci punctuating the day with a 10-footer on the closing hole. Kwon stuffed a 52-degree wedge to 7 feet on the par-4 opening hole and flopped a wedge shot to 3 feet from behind the green on the par-5 third. Vannucci’s wedge approach from 63 yards on the second hole stopped 8 feet from the flagstick.

“We’ve been playing well coming in,” said Vannucci, who didn’t play college golf after graduating from First Assembly Christian School in Memphis, Tenn. He now works for American Athletic Track and Turf in Southampton Township, N.J. “We were just trying to get settled in, calm the nerves and just hit shots. That’s all you’ve got to do. Play golf.”

Ackerman and McCarty, a left-hander, played mistake-free golf for the first 14 holes. After a birdie on No. 5, McCarty kept the momentum going with a clutch 15-foot par putt on the sixth green. They made their lone bogey on the 515-yard, par-4 15th to fall back to 12 under, but McCarty coolly converted a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th to pull the team into a three-way tie for medalist.

“I knew [Derek] was in with 5, so I just figured I’d hit it to the back of the cup,” said McCarty, a rising senior at Santa Clara. “We were definitely thinking about [being medalist] it a little after [Saturday’s 63]. I don’t think that was our main goal coming out here today.”

By Sunday night, it was official.

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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