Early returns suggest that the USGA's newest competitions, the men's and women's U.S. Amateur Four-Ball championships will confirm Johnny Miller's prediction: that they might turn out to be "the most popular tournaments for amateurs in the country" and that "there are going to be people coming out of the woodwork" to compete.
Foremost among them, perhaps, is former college football coach Rick Neuheisel (Colorado, Washington and UCLA), now an analyst for the Pac-12 Network. Neuheisel, a former Rose Bowl MVP as a UCLA quarterback, and partner Daniel Volko are entered in a Four-Ball qualifier at River Ridge Golf Club in Oxnard, Calif., next month.
"I think it's outstanding," Neuheisel said of the new championships. "There is no shortage of people who dream about playing in competitive golf. This gives those guys an opportunity and a little bit of cover because they've got a partner with them."
Neuheisel, a member at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles, has a handicap index of 2.9, though as recently as January it was 1.8. He ranked among the best golfers in the college coaching fraternity.
"I can take most of the coaches," he said. "Steve Spurrier and I used to have some good games, and I used to get the better of him most often. But one time, in Cancun, he took me down, and the bus ride back to the hotel was 30 minutes, and for 30 minutes he had to wax poetic about beating me, going through a hole by hole. Trash talking is part of it, and there's no better needle than the old ball coach."
Neuheisel, who was introduced to the game when he was 7, said he loved it from the beginning. "You know that country song, I was country before country was cool? I was a golfer before golf was cool.
"I get to play a lot now that I've got more time on my hands," he said, referencing his firing as UCLA's head coach in November 2011. "All joking aside, when I was fired it was my sanctuary. The thing that you miss most when you're let go is competing. Golf became my way to compete. I was on the Bel-Air golf team. I just had a blast playing."
Neuheisel, 54, has played in two U.S. Senior Open qualifiers, though he failed on both attempts. "But it's an absolute blast," he said, "how you feel nerves on the first tee. It's so fun to be out there grinding."
The men's Four-Ball will be held at the Olympic Club, May 2-6, the women's Four-Ball at Bandon Dunes, May 9-13.