Pat Moore wanted to hit a 7-iron but his caddie said soft six. The words resonated because 12 years earlier at the U.S. Amateur, the caddie, a Winged Foot member named Kevin McCarthy, made the same comment, which led to a triple bogey and Moore ultimately missing the cut by a single shot. Nevertheless, Moore again deferred to local knowledge and hit the six. He was gathering his tee when they heard the soft but unmistakable “click” of urethane on flagstick 178 yards away. Instead of walking up to the sixth green of Winged Foot’s East course with no putter, he danced.
Moore and his partner, Jeff Fujimoto of PXG Golf, would finish at +1 to miss the cut (six teams would playoff for two spots at -3) at the 2016 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, but there was no sulking. After the round, Moore asked the scorers if he could keep the flagstick as a souvenir, but they abnegated authority. So Moore tracked down Bill McCarthy, the tournament director, who said sure. There was only one problem. The person setting the flags in the morning hadn’t realized it, nor had Moore or anyone in the group during the celebratory photo, but the flag said No. 5. Which happens to be the 434-yard preceding hole. Quite understandably, the iconic white bold serif numerals of the USGA could make a 5 and 6 look pretty similar at dawn.
Offered the correct “No. 6” flag, Moore declined and chose to keep the erroneous No. 5 instead.
Cocktail and cigar in hand, the sun going down, Moore told the story again as his partner scampered to 18 West to snap a photo with friends old and new. The humming crowd of members, players and their families on the terrace wished the playoff for the final spots into match-play could commence, but not enough light remained.
With 126 teams vying for just 32 spots, you’d think the closing hours of such an event might make for a pained atmosphere, the dull dread of a wavering incision. After all, the four-ball format conflates mistakes and regret to complicated depths. No decent partner will ever say it, but for every team packing up its rental car to catch early flights home from JFK and LGA, it was probably more one guy’s fault than the other.
But no such morose thinking could be found at Nib’s Bar, home of the “fastest clock in sports.” Only gratitude at having played two of Golf Digest’s America’s 100 Greatest Courses (The West is ranked #9 and the East has jumped to #59 after a 2014 Gil Hanse-led restoration) and delight at meeting golfers from all over the country equally as nutty about the game. I’ve witnessed cut day at USGA individual events as both a reporter and player, and there’s always more hung heads than those that will meet your eye. While this is just the second U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, one reason may be that Winged Foot has hosted a similar event for 80 years.
“Being here really reminds me a lot of the Anderson Memorial,” said Zachary Plutzik, who along with former Yale golf team buddy Ben Wescoe, carded plus seven. “A lot of the same teams are here, the format is the same and the vibe is just overall very similar.” (The Anderson is an invitational four-ball event where team members belong to the same club.) Regular Anderson competitors Tom Hart/Jonathan Marsico and Anderson past champions Dan Crockett/Parker Smith advanced to the match play bracket that concludes on Wednesday.
But for all the cheerful clinking of glasses, this is still a national championship, open to anyone, in its historic infancy. “If I could give back the hole-in-one and make match play, there’s no question what I’d choose,” said Moore. “Nothing compares to making match play in a USGA event.”