Road to the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball : A Long Winter’s Journey (Part 4)
By Bruce Chamberlain, NJSGA Special Contributor This is the fourth 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 which begins Saturday, May 14. 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.
The final push. Nine months of anticipation. A hodgepodge of trackman feedback, hours on putting mats, simulator sessions, equipment adjustments, lessons, swing thoughts come and gone, injuries, recovery, a Pinehurst week, trip coordination – and now the time has finally come.
While offering some of the best venues in the country, golf in the Garden State is very weather dependent in the early weeks of spring. As Matt and Todd work on their final preparation push before heading to the USGA Amateur Four-Ball Championship at the Country Club of Birmingham (CCB), they’ve had to deal with the temperamental New Jersey conditions.
“There haven’t been a lot of warm sunny days to practice together,” Matt said. “I think we’ve had more rounds with beanies on our heads than in short sleeves. It'll be nice to get to warm weather and see how we are hitting it with a few less layers on.”
Don’t let that fool you though. The boys have been hard at work trying to do all they can before they leave for Alabama to compete May 14-18. The last month has been filled with everything necessary to engage in a national championship.
“We aren’t like the pros – we don’t have an agent to handle all the logistics while we just focus on our games, we have to do both,” Todd laments. With a patchwork quilt of state and national amateur qualifiers happening in May, scheduling has been a challenge for both players. Which qualifiers and where to do them around this trip has been the name of the game. Matt is registered for the New Jersey Mid-Amateur and Ike qualifiers, both also in May. And Todd will have Matt on the bag guiding him through a USGA Senior Open qualifier in the days before the trek to Birmingham.
As for practice, the boys are feeling pretty good about their games. Matt strung together several sub-par rounds before tweaking his hand a few weeks ago on an iron shot. “I’ve never seen Matt rolling the putter so well,” Todd says. Matt took a short break and did some cryo treatment at ChillRX in Montclair. “The hand is feeling much better,” Matt says. Todd found a few "things" over the last few weeks and feels everything will be exactly where he wants it by the time they head south. “I start getting excited for matches when Todd starts hitting his irons well,” crows Matt.
The two spend whatever time they can at Upper Montclair Country Club getting in their practice. Constantly being quipped by members “you’re here again?"
“It’s really cool! Every day that I’m there someone is coming up and asking when the tournament is and wishing us luck if they don’t see us again. Our UMCC family has been super supportive of Matt and I competing in this event,” Todd says.
In addition to the UMCC practice sessions, Todd spent some time working with Dr. Nick Molinaro, a nationally renowned sports psychologist based in Mendham. “I learned so much from that experience, understanding how your brain works and how you need it to work to accomplish your goal on each shot is truly amazing – everyone at all levels would really benefit from this.” He also took a quick trip to California to work with James Oh – short game coach to the pros – to try and iron out a few things with his scoring shots. “There’s still work to do following the trip – however what an experience and I came home understanding what I need to do and how to go about achieving it.”
Matt and Todd frequently will spend a couple of hours on the UMCC short game area just practicing their short game. It always culminates in a version of their up-down game at the end to try and produce a little pressure on each of them.
Andy Portera and Tom Lamkin, Country Club of Birmingham members who will be helping them on the bags in Alabama, have been trying to keep them up to speed on what to expect. “Tom said to practice putting on greens running 14 with a lot of break” Matt said “We joked that we probably need to go find a concrete driveway.” There’s no doubt that the course layouts will impress and challenge the two "Jersey Boys." Once they arrive the schedule is packed with registration, practice rounds and on Thursday night a dinner banquet. CCB is no stranger to hosting national championships. The banquet is courtesy of the host club’s “Adopt a Team” program, where a generous member family helps to defray some of the championship expenses and the cost of special member events for each of the teams. “Everything we hear is that they pull out all the stops to make sure we are taken care of while in Alabama, looking forward to learning and bringing some of those ideas home.”
The final prep before they leave will be to represent UMCC in the Red Hoffman Cup (interclub four-ball) matches. “The Hoffman Cup is a great way to meet people from other clubs, get to know each other, and have some strong competition. Each host club provides such a positive experience.” They are already scheduled to play against Hamilton Farms and Baltusrol. Two great courses with tournament four-ball conditions to help them with their prep. “I’m the UMCC Hoffman Cup Captain, plus I lead our Tuesday night league team. That with all the logistics for Alabama for me and my parents along with the other qualifiers I have in May has kept me very busy,” Todd says. For Matt he too has had plenty of things to think about off the course including birthdays with Dad and a wedding for his best friend (recall Kyle, the good-looking one). “It’s going to be a CRAZY 45 days, that’s for sure,” Matt smirks.
When entries closed for the 2022 USGA Four-Ball on August 11, 2021, some 2,468 teams (4,936 players) from Maine to Florida to Alaska (including some international teams) had registered. On Saturday, May 14, 2021 the Matt and Todd will tee it up with the 131 other surviving teams, some exempt (8) and some who qualified at one of 52 sites between August 18 and December 13 of 2021. Each has their own story, their own set of hopes and dreams, challenges, and hurdles. Some will have dropped, whether due to illness, injury, or perhaps loss of amateur status, allowing some of the hopeful alternate teams a chance to opt in. The first two days will consist of 36 holes of stroke play for 132 teams over the East (6,611 yards) and West (7,185) courses at Country Club of Birmingham. On May 16, the 32 top squads will square off in match play format on the longer West Course, with the winner to be declared on Wednesday, May 18.
The final question: What’s the key to being successful in Alabama? Todd said “We already are – I get the joy of competing in a USGA National Championship with one my best friends. As long as we are smiling and having fun – we’ll be good.” Matt agreed and added “Us having fun is key, the more Todd and I have fun the more pumped up we get and the more aggressive we play – that’s what happened at Canoe Brook and that’s what we need in Alabama.”
Matt and Todd have played both a lot of golf in their lives. The greatest amateur golfer of all-time, the late Bobby Jones, once defined the different levels of golf. “There is golf, tournament golf and championship golf and they are not at all the same.” Legendary golf writer Charles Price enhanced Jones’ quote with a visual. “All of them can be likened to walking a tightrope. Ordinary golf… is like walking a tightrope when it’s just off the ground. Tournament golf is when they raise the rope to 60 feet. Championship golf is when they take the net away.”
Enjoy the championship, boys! New Jersey is with you!