Many golf fans are familiar with the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. It’s a venue that has been in the national spotlight multiple times, including a memorable 1991 Ryder Cup when the competition wasn’t decided until Europe’s Bernhard Langer missed a short par putt on the final hole. The Pete Dye layout also hosted a pair of PGA Championships in 2012 (Rory McIlroy) and 2021 (Phil Mickelson).
But it’s the island’s two private retreats that will be featured this weekend when the 8th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship commences at Cassique and the stroke-play co-host River Course. This will be the second USGA championship for these two venues. In 2009, Nathan Smith, who is in this year’s field, won the second of his record four U.S. Mid-Amateur titles.
While in close proximity to each other, the layouts are vastly different with Cassique having a heathland motif and the River Course being more of a parkland-style course. Both have plenty of penalty areas, so there’s a premium on accuracy.
Three past champion sides are in the 128-side (256-player) field, including Smith and South Carolinian Todd White, the inaugural winners in 2015. North Carolinians and Wake Forest grads Chad Wilfong and Davis Womble will look to make it two in a row, while former Southern Methodist University teammates Benjamin Baxter and Andrew Buchanan claimed the 2016 title.
Here are 3 Things to Know as stroke play begins:
Performing in front of large audiences is nothing new for Tony Romo, who spent 14 seasons – 10 as the starting quarterback – with the Dallas Cowboys and now is the lead NFL analyst for CBS Sports working alongside Jim Nantz. Romo always has had a love for golf, dating back to his high school days in Burlington, Wis. (his father, Ramiro, qualified for the 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur), and he has made several attempts to qualify for the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur.
But he broke through last fall with partner and fellow Texan Tommy Morrison, a 6-foot-10 freshman on the University of Texas golf team. Romo is the third former NFL player to compete in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, following Kyle Williams (2019) and Danny Woodhead (2021). Billy Joe Tolliver qualified for the 2020 championship that was later canceled due to COVID-19.
Romo is not the only ex-athlete in the field. Michael Dunham, of Concord, Mass., a goaltender who played 11 seasons in the National Hockey League with five different teams and won a silver medal in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics as a member of Team USA, is competing in his third USGA championship. Golf has been in Dunham’s life since his childhood days in Binghamton, N.Y. His father, Ron, was a longtime PGA professional. The 40-year-old is partnering with fellow Concord resident Jackson Kingman, 15 years his junior.
Speaking of hockey, NHL referee Garrett Rank, who had to withdraw from this championship a year ago due to last-minute playoff assignments, is once again partnering with Joe Deraney. Both are past U.S. Mid-Amateur runners-up; Rank in 2012 and Deraney in 2019.
It has been 10 years since Bobby Wyatt advanced to the Round of 32 in the U.S. Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. That was the last time this former amateur phenom teed it up in a USGA championship. Back then, Wyatt was seen as a better prospect than his Alabama teammate Justin Thomas, who has since won a pair of PGA Championships. His pro career never attained such lofty heights and in 2021 he regained his amateur status. Wyatt and partner Lee Knox, a former Alabama teammate, qualified for last year’s U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, but withdrew days before the event when Knox’s wife went into labor.
Given the circumstances, the USGA granted the duo a special exemption for 2023, and both will have easy commutes to Kiawah Island: Wyatt from Atlanta and Knox from St. Simons Island, Ga.
Wyatt’s amateur career includes going undefeated in the 2013 Walker Cup Match at National Golf Links of America and being medalist in the 2012 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club, site of this year’s National Amateur.
Also returning to the USGA scene after a 16-year hiatus is 2006 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Casey Watabu. The Hawaiian also is a reinstated amateur.
Most golfers get their first introduction to the game through a parent. So, imagine the thrill for a father getting to play in a USGA championship alongside his child. Marc Apps, 63, of Chandler, Ariz., is going to have that opportunity for a second time. In 2015, Marc and son Tyler qualified for the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at The Olympic Club. Eight years later, Tyler is a graduate of Grand Canyon University who works as a financial advisor for Edward Jones.
The thrill for both is just the same. Call it a nice early Father’s Day present.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.