Road to the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball : A Long Winter’s Journey (Part 3)
By Bruce Chamberlain, NJSGA Special Contributor This is the second journal article in a five-part series as Todd Wiggins and Matt Scozzari embark on their journey to the 2022 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at the Country Club of Birmingham from May 14-18. The Upper Montclair Country Club pair earned co-medalist honors at the qualifier, hosted by the New Jersey State Golf Association at Canoe Brook Country Club in August, 2021.
“Golf is the most solitary sport there is.” So said John Feinstein in his book, “A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour” which chronicled the 1994 PGA Tour season. While Todd Wiggins and Matt Scozzari admittedly spend a fair amount of time alone on a putting green, driving range, or golf simulator, the one word they cannot use to describe their mission to play well at the USGA Four-ball this May at the Country Club of Birmingham is – solitary. Here are several stories from people who have been on the journey along with them – many for far longer than the New Jersey section qualifier last August at Canoe Brook Country Club.
Matt Scozzari's older brother, Mike, recalls how quickly Matt gained early success. "One summer we were down at a golf range where Matt could barely hit the ball 100 feet. The very next summer, at the same range, the staff was asking him to take it easy, as he was hitting the ball nearly 300 yards — and perfectly straight! I was always a decent athlete, but there’s no competing with Matt. He is an incredible athlete.” According to Mike, Matt has always been humble to a fault. “He’s won so many different championships through the years, dating back to high school. When he won the state championship, he barely said anything. We tried to force him to have his picture taken by the school’s marquee with his name on it – he backed out, so we just took the picture without him.”
Never one for the spotlight, the same was true with the USGA Four-Ball. “As his older brother, my job is to mess with him as much as possible, but when I understood what a big deal this was, breaking his chops became almost impossible.” Not knowing the ins and outs of the game the way Matt does, his family didn’t understand what a big deal this tournament was and had to practically pry it out of him. “We all figured this was just “another” tournament, but now that we know, and understand what a big deal this is, we’re just so incredibly proud of Matt and everything he continues to accomplish. He’s the superstar of our family.” The whole family will be rooting for Matt in May - as long as he remembers to tell them when it is.
Lifelong friend, Kyle Wiedemann, had this recollection. “Matt and I go way back. I vividly remember going to Glenwild Greens (9-hole par-3 course) with him when he was just starting out. It wasn’t long before he left me in the dust - he just made the game look so easy at times. Kyle can rationalize, “Hey, I’m still better looking.” Spoken like a true childhood pal.
Kyle had witnessed Matt and Todd prepare and wasn’t surprised by the co-medalist honors. On qualifying day, Kyle kept his eye on the NJSGA online scoring app. “When I saw their names rising up the leaderboard (largely due to five straight birds from Matt), I knew they had found their groove. Matt always plays his best golf when it counts.” That said, he’ll be glued to the USGA online scoring app in May. “If Matt and Todd continue to play at the level they are capable of, the other teams will be in trouble!”
Back in 1980s, Todd Wiggins was a student in Terry Henage’s health and physical education classes. “Todd was in class to learn. He listened intently, asked thoughtful questions, and seemed to understand, beyond his years, the importance of bettering himself.” Terry knew Todd’s parents, Curt and Judy, very well. “I have to credit their home environment for creating the high level of character, desire, and persistence deep within Todd.”
Todd played varsity basketball and golf. Terry was the high school golf coach. “I often drove the team van to matches or tournaments. While the rest of the team would sit in the back and chat or listen to music, Todd would sit up front with me and talk golf – everything from swing mechanics to PGA Tour players.” Terry recalled one of Todd’s teammates exclaiming "Todd is crazy about practicing golf. I think he would rather putt and hit range balls more than actually play on the course!" This was no surprise to Terry. As a senior, Todd would ask Terry to meet him at the golf course before school hours. “Todd looked forward to practice. He would always practice seriously with a purpose. I never worked with an athlete more motivated and driven.”
The story from home is full of fond memories and pride. Todd’s dad Curt recalls the support from Terry Henage and the members at Mexico Country Club (Mexico, Missouri). “They were pleased to take this young boy under their wing and give him the benefit of playing with very good golfers. Todd became very close to many of these senior golfers and was always lending a helping hand to them with various maintenance tasks around the club.“
Curt and Judy appreciate the special bond that developed with Coach Henage. “Terry took a special interest in Todd and promised to watch out for him – that meant a lot to us. Todd progressed from being the only freshman on the team to being the captain as a senior. His golf skills grew in step with his life skills. We credit Terry Henage’s mentorship to much of Todd’s growth through his time in high school.”
After high school, Curt was able to enjoy time with Todd on the course. “During Todd’s college years, he and I took a father-and-son golf trip most summers. These included the Houston area, the Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama, and even a trip to the home of golf in Scotland. It was during the trip to Alabama that Todd had to call his mother and tell her that I’d been attacked by a nesting mother goose – one of my errant shots got a little too close! Then in Scotland, on one of our rounds of golf it rained, sleeted, and snowed on us; all on the first and second holes of the round. Todd did not acquire his golf skills from me, but we always enjoyed one another’s company – as it was hit the ball then drag dad.”
Mom summed it up best, “We are very proud of him. We plan to be in Alabama in May!”
For Todd’s fiancé, Jane Shushunov, the qualifying medal was “super exciting” but no surprise. “They both take golf very seriously. There is passion, hard work, love, and discipline in it.” She saw them miss the number at the NJSGA Four-ball qualifier earlier in the year, and therefore knew their disappointment and how much they wanted to succeed this time around.
A competitive swimmer in her own right, Jane knows what it takes to compete at a high level. She feels that the pair has a better foundation than they give themselves credit, and they need to trust their preparation and relax. “Both Matt and Todd need to be reminded that they are already great golfers, good partners and friends and having that powerful combination they can definitely achieve their goals!!”
Tom Lamkin is a Country Club of Birmingham (CCB) member and very valuable new friend. “We were introduced by a friend of a friend, as Todd and Matt were looking for some local knowledge.” After some back and forth discussions, Tom and fellow member, Andy Portera, decided to team up and offer their shoulders to caddie for the Jersey pair. “I caddied in the 2016 USGA Men’s Team Championship (predecessor to USGA Four-Ball, also held at CCB) and really enjoyed it, so I jumped at the chance to do it for Todd and Matt.”
Tom and Andy will bring substantial local knowledge and expertise to the table. “The greens at Country Club of Birmingham are tricky. The West Course especially has severe undulations. The greens will be fast, so putting will be at a premium. Local knowledge on reading greens and how to hit into the green complexes will help. The greens were rolling so fast during the (2013 USGA) Mid-Am (also held at CCB) during the knock-out stages that there were numerous three and four putts.” Both the East and West courses will be used by the 128 teams in their 36-hole qualifying rounds. The match play rounds will be held on the West course for the 32 qualifying teams.
Tom understands his role and is ready for the challenge. “Having been a caddie in a (USGA) tournament, I have an idea of how hard it is. It’s stressful, as you don’t want to make an error in providing a yardage or reading a putt and costing (your players). I worry about raking the bunkers properly so players following don’t have any ‘bad breaks.’ I’ve got stories on that front. In the Mid-am, a caddy (who was the players dad) took a cart ride up the hill with the player as their match was going into extra holes. Well, it turns out caddies can’t ride in carts and it’s a penalty. That cost the player the hole and got him eliminated.”
Tom is hoping that the team can find some time to visit Birmingham in advance of the tournament in May and recognizes the nuance in the player-caddie relationship, “We need to help them how they need us. If they need help reading greens, we need to know how to communicate what we see so we are on the same page.” It seems like Todd and Matt may have found “Southern Hospitality” in just the right dose!
The extended support team doesn’t stop there. Mike Holiday, Director of Golf at the duos home club, Upper Montclair, has worked with both players. Daily flexibility and stretching routines have been supplemented with visits to Montclair Performance Health and Chiropractic. The facilities at The Clubhouse in Fairfield have been a venue for hours of productive practice. YouTube Golf Instruction gurus Clay Ballard, Mike Malaska, and James Oh get some screen time from both Todd and Matt. Also on YouTube, the Green Reading Master Class developed by Craig Hocknull, Utah PGA Teacher of the Year, has Matt seeing lines with clarity and putting more confidently. And this spring, the interclub family of New Jersey scratch golfers will provide an intense competitive experience in the first round of the 2022 Red Hoffman Cup matches in early May. Solitary golfers? Not here!
Switching gears to the preparation front, the work grinds on. A late February trip to Pinehurst yielded positive vibes, as both players found their ball-striking was closer to mid-season form than they had hoped. Todd summarized the trip this way, “Pinehurst was a wonderful late winter week of golf. Being from the northeast, our season is delayed compared to 75% of our competition. The courses and experience were not only a great prep, but a memorable experience.” Putting and short game work are sure to get some focused attention, especially based on some of the feedback provided by Tom Lamkin of CCB.
Since the UMCC duo qualified last August, Major League Baseball has completed one season, gone on strike, and then come back for another. Pitchers and catchers have reported, and the season will start in early April. For Todd and Matt, the nine-month countdown to May 14th is finally starting to get some Jersey grass growing under its feet. Play Ball! Play well!