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USGA Adds Four-Ball Championships; To Drop Two Public Links after 2014
The United States Golf Association (USGA) has announced two new championships, making the additions the first in more than 25 years. The U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship and U.S. Women's Amateur Four-Ball Championship will be played annually between mid-March and late May, with the inaugural events scheduled for 2015.
The last time the USGA added a national championship for individual golfers was in 1987 with the U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur Championship.
The USGA also announced on February 11 that it will "retire" the U.S. Amateur Public Links (APL) and U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links (WAPL) championships after the 2014 competitions are held.
"We couldn't be more excited about the creation of national four-ball championships, given the popularity and enjoyment of this competitive format at the amateur level," said USGA Vice President and Championship Committee Chairman Thomas J. O'Toole Jr. "Because the four-ball format lends itself to spirited team competition and aggressive risk-reward shot-making, we are confident these championships will deliver exciting amateur golf to the national stage for both players and spectators alike."
Eligibility for both four-ball championships will be limited to amateurs, with no age restrictions. Team partners will not be required to be from the same club, state or country, and substitution of partners will be permitted until the close of entries. Entry is limited to individuals with a USGA Handicap Index not to exceed 5.4 for men and 14.4 for women.
The USGA's four-ball championships will begin with sectional qualifying at dozens of sites around the nation. The U.S. Amateur Four-Ball and U.S. Women's Amateur Four-Ball will consist of 128 and 64 two-player teams, respectively, with each playing their own ball throughout the round. A team's score will be determined using their better-ball score for each hole. After 36 holes of stroke-play competition, the field will be reduced to the low 32 teams for the match-play portion of the championship.
Four-ball has become a popular at state and regional golf associations across the U.S. In 2012, more than 150 championships - either strictly four-ball or as part of a competition format - were conducted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
"We appreciate the support and energy that the USGA is bringing to these new four-ball national championships," said Jim Demick, executive director of the Florida State Golf Association, who served on the advisory group of state and regional golf associations executives and tournament directors consulted by the USGA. "Along with my fellow associations around the country, we look forward to showcasing this unique brand of team competition through what promise to be first-class events."
Host sites for the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship and U.S. Women's Amateur Four-Ball Championship will be announced at a later date.
The USGA also announced the "retirement" of the U.S. Amateur Public Links (APL) and U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links (WAPL) championships, following the completion of the 2014 competitions. The decision follows an internal review that determined the APL and WAPL championships no longer serve their original missions because of the widespread accessibility public-course golfers today enjoy in USGA championships.
The U.S. Amateur Public Links was first played in 1922, and is the fourth-oldest championship conducted by the USGA. The APL was established to provide public golfers with access to a national championship because, at that time, the U.S. Amateur was restricted to players from USGA member clubs. The U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links was established in 1977 for the same reason as the APL. In 1979, however, the USGA modified the entry requirements for the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women's Amateur to allow entry to public-course players.
"While our fondness for these championships made this decision a difficult one, we will continue to proudly celebrate the legacy and important role that the APL and WAPL have had on the game by forever honoring them in the USGA Museum, as well as in other appropriate ways," said John Bodenhamer, senior managing director of Rules, Competitions & Equipment Standards for the USGA. "We also wish to express our heartfelt gratitude to all the champions, participants, host clubs, volunteers and benefactors who, over the years, helped build a strong legacy of public links competition."
"We're going to celebrate the history of what's happened since 1922," added O'Toole. "It will be in our USGA Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History and will continue to carry on this great history and great experience of some of those players that you mentioned that won both championships in the same season. But again, we feel that because of the mission of what they were perpetuated and started to serve is no longer there, that it's time we move on.
"Again, these are hard decisions, but we think they're the right ones for the USGA in 2013. That doesn't mean that this doesn't impact some people in a different way, but moving forward this is the right thing from our perspective."
Since 1988, the APL champion from the previous year has received an automatic invitation to play in the following year's Masters Tournament. When asked how that will change when the event is retired, Bodenhamer responded, "We've not had lengthy discussions with Augusta National, and frankly they've been most gracious over the years I think since 1988 in extending that wonderful exemption. I think it would be I think the fairest way to answer that would be to allow Augusta National to answer that. It's their exemption, and they would be apt to address it."
Over their existence, the two Public Links championships have a rich history and are part of the USGA's long heritage of supporting public golf. The competitions boast an impressive lineup of champions including most recently: Billy Mayfair (1986); Tim Clark (1997); Trevor Immelman (1998); Ryan Moore (2002 and 2004); Brandt Snedeker (2003); Yani Tseng (2004); and T.J. Vogel and Kyung Kim (2012).
These championships have also contributed to the USGA's record books: Michelle Wie (2003) became the youngest champion in USGA history when she won the WAPL at age 13; Ryan Moore (2004) became the first golfer to win the APL and the U.S. Amateur in the same year, while Colt Knost matched that feat in 2007; and Pearl Sinn (1988) and Jennifer Song (2009) won both the WAPL and U.S. Women's Amateur in the same year.
The above report is courtesy of the USGA. For more information, visit www.usga.org.