Wilfong, Womble Rally to Take Four-Ball Title in Birmingham
There is no more medalist jinx in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. A pair of Wake Forest alums, Chad Wilfong and Davis Womble, became the first side to medal in stroke play and go on to win the championship with a dramatic, come-from-behind, 19-hole victory over Drew Kittleson and Drew Stoltz on the West Course of the Country Club of Birmingham.
It was the second consecutive year that the championship match was decided in extra holes.
“Oh, there are no words,” said Wilfong. “That's kind of the pinnacle of what you strive to achieve in this game. I tried my hand at the professional level [for 10 years], so had other kind of goals and objectives, but there’s nothing bigger than a USGA championship.
“I think we always believed that we could do it. You just have to go get it done, and it’s hard to get it done.”
Wilfong, 41, of Charlotte, N.C., and Womble, 28, of Winston-Salem, N.C., who were co-medalists with Torey Edwards and Bret Parker, and Carter Loflin and Wells Williams with a 13-under-par total of 128 in stroke play, were the first medalist side in seven iterations of the competition to even make it to the final.
And they made it quite memorable.
Down to their last putt on the 18th green and trailing by a hole, Wilfong delivered one of the biggest putts of his career. His 52-degree wedge from 115 yards stopped 8 feet from the flagstick. Moments earlier, Kittleson and Womble had both failed to convert their birdie chances – the former from 25 feet and the latter from 18 – leaving it all up to Wilfong.
Two holes earlier, the 2021 North & South Amateur semifinalist had missed a 5-foot birdie to win the hole but had bounced back to convert a clutch 12-footer for par on No. 17 that ultimately tied the hole and extended the match.
In fact, neither side had won a hole since Wilfong had a short birdie putt conceded on the par-4 ninth.
Facing a win-or-go-home situation, Wilfong, a 2003 Wake Forest graduate, coolly converted to force extra holes.
On the 372-yard, par-4 19th – the first hole of the West Course – neither Kittleson, 33, nor Stoltz, 37, found the fairway, something they struggled to do the entire championship, while their opponents were each in good position.
Wilfong’s approach stopped 20 feet behind the flagstick and Womble saw his ball nearly spin back into the penalty area, stopping on the fringe. Kittleson had to punch out from the right rough and his third was a beauty to 10 feet. Stoltz’s second from the left rough rolled behind the green into the rough, and his excellent recovery pitch rolled 7 feet past the flagstick.
Neither Wilfong nor Womble converted, and then they agonizingly waited to see if Kittleson or Stoltz could drain par putts to keep the match going. Both missed and the match ended as the sun was about to set.
“It’s just devastating,” said Kittleson, who also was the runner-up in the 2008 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2.
Said Stoltz: “To make bogey on this hole to end it, I think that's a tough one.”
The loss ended an improbable run for the two Scottsdale, Ariz., residents. Eight days ago, they weren’t even in the field. But then 2019 semifinalists Troy Vannucci and Vincent Kwon – an exempt side – withdrew, meaning the USGA had to go to the allotment list. The Litchfield, Ariz., site was up next in the rotation. First alternates Ted Gray and Travis Milleman turned down the spot, so that left Stoltz and Kittleson, the second alternates from the qualifier last fall, to get the spot.
Kittleson was supposed to be in Austin, Texas, this week on business and Stoltz was scheduled to fly to Tulsa, Okla., to do his SiriusXM Radio show (Gravy and The Sleaze) with two-time USGA champion and current CBS on-course reporter Colt Knost. In fact, many players were tweeting their support for the popular Stoltz, who also does a weekly podcast for Golf.com (Subpar) with Knost. They even had to find an alternate hotel on Tuesday night because their current lodging didn’t have any vacancies.
“We had a blast,” said Stoltz, who met Kittleson at Whisper Rock, where both are members. “He’s one of my best friends in the world. We took turns propping each other up. When one wasn’t playing well, the other carried most of the load.”
Wilfong and Womble got off to a slow start, losing the first two holes, including the par-4 second with a bogey that ended a 56-hole streak in match play without a blemish. The two longtime friends – despite being 13 years apart they each grew up at Colonial Country Club in Thomasville, N.C. – stayed patient and got back to 1 down at the turn.
It remained that way until the 18th hole.
“Mental fatigue more than anything,” said Womble explaining the slow start. “I had a 3-footer, frankly a relatively easy putt; I just overthought it and missed it on 2. But those things happen, and we stayed with it and we grinded, which you have to do in these. You’re not going to be leading every match. That’s just not how it goes…We both made big putts at some point this week, so it was special.”
Wilfong and Womble had a couple of hours to wait in between their semifinal victory on Wednesday morning and the start of the 18-hole final.
That’s because they recorded a 7-and-5 win over No. 2 seeds Loflin, 18, of Duluth, Ga., and Williams, 18, of West Point, Miss. It was the largest semifinal victory in the short history of the championship, surpassing the 5-and-4 mark produced by 2018 champions Garrett Barber and Cole Hammer.
“Today, we just came out flat,” said Loflin, who is headed to the University of Georgia in the fall. “It was just really kind of odd.”
Added Williams, a three-time American Junior Golf Association All-American who will play for Vanderbilt University in the fall: “I would say the whole [match] between the two of us, we probably hit four fairways. That doesn’t help, especially since they have let the rough grow out.”
In the other semifinal match, Stoltz and Kittleson eliminated 2008 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up Evan Beck, 31, of Virginia Beach, Va., and former Wake Forest assistant coach Dan Walters, 37, of Winston-Salem, N.C., 2 and 1.
“I do feel like we got beat rather than we lost,” said Walters, who coached Beck and Womble during his nine seasons at Wake Forest. “Evan played some really good golf… [Kittleson] is a very nice player. He drove it wonderfully.”
“I felt like we were playing as well as anybody, and we just didn’t have [our best stuff] this afternoon [in the final]. And a lot of it was course conditions. It got firmer, it got crispy out there, the way the USGA loves it, which is great. It’s what you want in a final round in a championship match. But there was some tired legs and some tired swings. All that together made it really tough.” – Chad Wilfong
“I hate qualifying. Qualifying is harder than making match play at these events. I just need to clear my schedule. That’s all I know.” – Davis Womble on getting the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur exemptions
“I'll say this: There are no bad teams that make match play. They’re all good, and any one of them can get hot and run you right off the golf course if you’re not careful. We just happened to be that team for a couple of our matches.” – Wilfong
“Yeah, I’ve hit my golf limit for the next couple weeks.” – Drew Kittleson after playing 123 holes of competitive golf over the past five days
“We played a little two-day tournament at Whisper Rock right before this [championship], coincidentally, but otherwise I’m strictly pretty much like member-guest [golfer]. It shows in the way I play.” – Drew Stoltz
“It was kind of a weird week [for us] in general. Evan didn’t play any practice rounds because his back was bothering him. I didn’t play one practice round [on Friday] because [of food poisoning]. We played nicely in stroke play, and I thought we played pretty good in match play. But it’s never fun losing.” – Dan Walters (partnering with Evan Beck) on their semifinal run.
“I got my feet wet with some shots under pressure. The main takeaway is I can still hit shots under pressure and still make some putts when I need to. A lot more positives than negatives, for sure.” – Carter Loflin summing up his semifinal run with partner Wells Williams
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.