NCGA Four-Ball Preview
May 9, 2012
by Spencer Sorensen
PEBBLE BEACH – On Friday 100 two-man teams will tee it up at the 46th Annual NCGA Four-Ball Championship at Spyglass Hill in what always proves to be one of the most exciting and mysterious NCGA championships. Exciting because as recent history has shown three of the last five championships have been decided by a single stroke or sudden-death playoff, and mysterious because there are never really any clear cut favorites.
The perfect example of this is the story of last year’s winners J.R. Becko and Jason Higton. The duo played steady golf the first two days shooting back-to-back 68s and found themselves only two shots off the lead going into Sunday. While much of the attention for Sunday’s round was on the co-leading teams of R.C. Orr/Scott Roak and Jon Peterson/Eddie Davis at 10-under par, and the formidable pair of past champions (2005) Scott Hardy and Rick Reinsberg at 8-under par—Becko and Higton’s playing partners—the duo quietly went about their business and shot a solid 69 to win by one stroke with an 11-under par total. Their winning the championship was a surprise as very few, if any, could foresee the two standing atop the leaderboard at the beginning of the week.
However, such is the nature of the four-ball format. In order to contend, both playing partners need to physically and mentally grind it out for 54 holes at the perennially tough Spyglass Hill.
“We really did grind it out at last year’s championship,” said Higton, “I’m not sure how many holes we went without a bogey, but anytime you make par at Spyglass it’s a good thing.”
Becko and Higton went their final 41 holes without a bogey, which ultimately proved to be the key component to their victory. On the other hand double bogeys late in Sunday’s final round killed teams of Hardy/Reinsberg (a double bogey on the 51st hole) and Peterson/Davis (a double bogey on the 52nd hole). Both teams lost by one shot, which is very telling of how important it is for both team members to perform over the course of 54 holes.
“Double bogeys are looming on every hole,” explained Becko of Spyglass’s penal layout. “Jason and I are going to try and control where we are aggressive and where we’re not, just as we did last year.”
Another factor that makes the Four-Ball Championship mysterious is the lack of repeat champions. In total, only five teams have won twice and no duo has ever won three times. Tom Culligan III and Dan James were the first to do it, winning in 1968 and then repeating in 1975. Randy Haag, six-time NCGA Player of the Year, has done it twice with two different partners. He first became a repeat champion with Bob Blomberg, winning in 1987 and 1993. Seven years later in 2000 he won his first with Darryl Donovan and a decade later in 2010 won his second with him. Casey Boyns and Joey Ferrari had a good run as the two won titles in 1994 and 1996. In recent years Taylor Travis and Ryan Sloane won back-to-back years in 2008 and 2009, becoming the first and only champions to defend their title.
“Based on history, I’d say our chances are pretty bleak,” said Higton on defending this year’s title. “However, neither of us has practiced that much lately and I think we play better golf when we don’t practice because golf allows us to get away from our daily lives.”
Becko agrees, admitting “we are weekend golfers at best.” The two 32 year-olds both have young families and careers preventing them from hitting the links often. “We’re just going to go out there and have some fun at one of the best golf courses in the country,” said Becko.
While the two look to have fun and enjoy their champion title at least for a few more days, this year there’s a little more pressure going into the event, but not for the conventional reason of being defending champions.
“I don’t know about J.R., but there’s a little bit more pressure because it’s Mother’s Day,” said Higton. “My wife told me as long as you’re going to be playing golf on Mother’s Day you might as well win the tournament.”
The first wave of the tournament begins at 7:30 a.m. Friday off the first and 10th tees with the second wave commencing at 12:00 p.m. Saturday, players will switch waves and a cut will be made for top 40 teams and ties for Sunday’s final round. See first round pairings.