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MILTON, Massachusetts – In a qualifying event, it often only takes one hole to turn things around for better or worse.
Once Brandon Parker (Worcester Country Club) made an eagle on the par-5 8th hole during Thursday’s 2022 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball qualifier at Wollaston Golf Club (6,776 yards, par-72), there was no looking back for him and Kyle Tibbetts (Framingham Country Club).
Tibbetts birdied the final two holes as he and Parker shot a bogey-free 7-under-par 65 to split medalist honors and earn a qualifying spot alongside Wollaston member Patrick O’Leary and his former University of Pennsylvania teammate Ben Cooley.
“USGA events are the toughest ones to get into,” Tibbetts said. “To be one of two teams that made it today and walk away with a medal, we’re stoked. I can’t wait to do it.”
For the second straight year, Joshua Shepard (CC of Pittsfield) and James Cimini (Swansea CC) came up short but earned the first alternate spot. Once again, they found themselves in a playoff, outlasting four teams, with Corey Marshall (Webster, NY) & Sean Paul Owen (Horseheads, NY) earning the second spot.
U.S. AMATEUR FOUR-BALL QUALIFIERS (Names; Cities)
Kyle Tibbetts (Boston) & Brandon Parker (Worcester); (-7) 65
Patrick O’Leary (Milton) & Ben Cooley (Phoenixville, Penn.); (-7) 65
ALTERNATES (In Order)
Joshua Shepard (Pittsfield) & James Cimini (Stoughton); (-5) 67*
Corey Marshall (Webster, NY) & Sean Paul Owen (Horseheads, NY); (-5) 67*
*Won a playoff
Kyle Tibbetts got his round started with a birdie, but through 7 holes, the pair still sat at 1-under and needed a spark in order to make a run at one of two qualifying spots. His steady-handed teammate Brendon Parker provided it, as he crushed a driver around the corner off the 8th tee, and his 2-iron approach set up a 10-foot eagle putt, which he converted. Parker then got up and down for par to avoid a blemish on the scorecard.
“He [Parker] was super consistent, and for a while, I was just along for the ride,” Tibbetts said. “Without the eagle on 8 and par on 9, we’re probably even on the front,” Tibbetts said.
While Parker kept the team in it early on, Tibbetts led the way on the back nine as he started with a birdie on the 10th and had a tap-in birdie on the 14th after missing a 10-foot eagle attempt.
But it all came down to the final two holes, and Tibbetts did everything he could to make sure his side would get through. On the par-3 17th, he hit a 4-iron to about 4 feet and sank the birdie putt to move to 6-under. On the par-4 18th, Parker took some pressure off Tibbetts as he two-putted from 20-feet to save par. Facing a downhill 15-footer, with greens “rolling like glass”, Tibbetts went right at the cup and converted one last birdie putt to lock up their qualifying spot.
“Seven-under felt pretty darn good,” Tibbetts said after their round ended. “The championship is a ways away, but I can’t wait to get down there.”
. . .
Patrick O’Leary and Ben Cooley have been friends since they played junior golf events together and eventually became teammates at the University of Pennsylvania.
Last year, O’Leary lived in Cincinnati and asked Cooley to travel from Pennsylvania and try to qualify for the Four-Ball together. They weren’t able to make it through, and this year, Cooley was planning for O’Leary to come to Pennsylvania to try to qualify.
But when O’Leary found out a qualifier was coming to his lifelong club of Wollaston, he knew he had to convince Cooley to come up to New England.
“I felt good about it,” said O’Leary, a Milton native. “I pretty much got it around, but Ben was awesome. I was the course knowledge guy, and he was the one who hit all the good shots.”
Cooley indeed set the tempo by making birdie on three of his first four holes, getting the team at 5-under through 6 holes and a 5-under 31 on the front nine.
“In years past, we’ve gotten to slow starts and had to close quickly,” O’Leary said. “Through 8 holes we said we’re in a good place. The only thing we needed was putts going in and once they did it made it easy for us.”
Though the former Quakers had a pair of bogeys, they were both able to pick each other up when needed. O’Leary made three birdies total, but on the 11th, he drove into the water. Still, Cooley was able to par on the 10th and 11th to keep the pair in the lead.
Beyond that, Cooley is a caddie on the Korn Ferry Tour and the two have a good rapport and know how to motivate each other. “He and I have a good understanding of what to say and what not to say to each other,” O’Leary said.
Now they’re hoping their friendship serves them well when they travel to Alabama next year to compete as a team.
The U.S. Amateur Four-Ball is among the newer crop of USGA Championships. Tuesday’s qualifying was for entry into the 7th playing of the event, which is scheduled to be held in May (2022) at the Country Club of Birmingham in Birmingham, Alabama.
Even being a young event, the U.S. Four-Ball already has a collection of famed U.S. courses on its list of past venues. The inaugural version of the event was held at The Olympic Club before visiting Winged Foot GC, Pinehurst Resort & CC, Jupiter Hills Club, Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, and Chambers Bay.
Massachusetts has seen a number of players represented in the championship proper. The furthest a Bay State side has advanced was the Quarterfinals. In 2019 the side of Matt Parziale & Herbie Aikens carded a second-round 65 to avoid a playoff for the final spots in match play. In the Round of 32 they made quick work of their young opponents before defeating Stewart Hagestad & Derek Busby in the Round of 16.
Eligibility: Each member of the side cannot have a Handicap Index exceeding 5.4.
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