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MAMORONECK, NY—Their team failed to make the NCAA men’s championships, so Ben Baxter and Andrew Buchanan decided to take matters into their own hands and won another national championship instead.
A year after SMU teammate Bryson DeChambeau won the NCAA individual national championship and later the
U.S. Amateur, Baxter and Buchanan teamed up to win the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at historic Winged Foot Golf Club.
Their head coach at SMU, Jason Enloe, also competed and advanced to the quarterfinals with Alex Buecking, who played at SMU with Enloe. Baxter and Buchanan join DeChambeau, Kelly Kraft and Colt Knost among SMU golfers who have won recent USGA national championships.
“This is kind of a replacement for the NCAAs, and it turned out to be a much better replacement than we could have imagined,” said Buchanan, 21, of Los Altos, Calif. “If you offered us an NCAA championship at the
beginning of the week or a USGA championship, I think since the USGA is the mecca of golf...to win one of their championships is unbelievable.”
Throughout the week, the winning Ponies showed they had a lot of giddy-up on the back nine at Winged Foot. In five match-play rounds, Baxter, 20, of Flower Mound, and Buchanan played 40 holes on the inward nine in 14 under, given match-play concessions. And they needed almost all of those birdies.
They finished T9 in stroke play with a 7-under 133 after 36 holes on Winged Foot’s East and West courses. In the round of 32, they needed an eagle and two birdies over the last four holes to turn a match that was all square into a 2 and 1 victory. In round of 16, they were one down until they made birdies at the 11th and 16th to win 1 up. In the quarterfinals, they won 2 and 1 with birdies at the 11th and 17th.
In the semifinal match against highly-ranked Garrett Rank of Canada and Patrick Christovich, they turned a 4-down deficit through eight holes into a 2 and 1 victory with birdies on six of the next nine holes.
“I’d say sometimes on the front nine, we almost got a little too complacent with our play,” Baxter said. “We almost got a little too comfortable getting down early in the match.
“On 8 through 18, we felt really comfortable with our clubs off the tee and our clubs into the green. I’d say it’s just keeping a positive attitude and kind of switching your mindset to a fresh start for the back nine.”
That approach worked again in the championship match. They were all square through 13 holes against Brandon Cigna and Ben Warnquist, but then won three of the next four holes to close out a 3 and 2 victory.
All square through 11 holes, the final turned on the 546-yard, par-5 12th.
Cigna, 30, a wealth management advisor from Arlington, Va., reached the green in two. After he missed his long eagle attempt, however, Baxter rolled in a 16-foot birdie putt to put the pressure back on Cigna and Warnquist.
Warnquist, 23, of Olney, Md., couldn’t convert a long birdie attempt to earn a half and Cigna followed by missing his 6-footer.
That win gave the SMU duo its first lead of the match...one that they would never relinquish. After a birdie at the 14th, Buchanan made a 15-foot birdie at the 15th to go 3 up with three to play.
Oddly enough, the two players who hail from Dallas and are huge Dallas Cowboys fans wore New York Giants shirts all week. They were supplied by their host family—a member of the Mara family that owns the Giants.
At least, they were in SMU colors of red, white and blue.
Fox Sports analyst Juli Inkster, who met DeChambeau last year during the U.S. Amateur, helped hook the SMU boys up with Frank Mara, who is vice president of community relations for the Giants. Mara and his wife, Lynn, hosted Baxter and Buchanan in their home during the five-day event. And the Maras hooked them up with caddie Duane Cunningham, who has caddied at Winged Foot for more than 20 years. Cunningham was instrumental in providing advice and reading breaks on the legendary greens throughout the week.
“At the Mara’s last night, I was looking at a book and a line stuck with me,” Buchanan said after one match. “It was like, ‘Just like your body needs a proper diet, your mind needs a proper diet too. You need to feed it the right stuff.’ We played horribly today but we kept saying, ‘We’re going to win this match.’”
In the same way that Knost, Kraft and DeChambeau have created positive examples for members of the SMU golf team to follow, Buchanan said he hopes their victory will do the same for new and returning SMU players.
“The SMU golf team has gone through a lot the last few years and we’re a very close team,” Buchanan said. “Those guys are just as good as us day in and day out, and so I think that it will mean a lot to the team to be able to see two of their teammates won a USGA championship and they're just as good as we are...so that should give everybody on the team a lot of confidence heading forward.” TL