After getting tagged with a bogey on hole No. 13 at Riverside Country Club in Provo in Sunday’s final round of the 2019 Siegfried and Jensen Utah Open, BYU golfer Kelton Hirsch appeared to be out of the running.
Not only had his two-shot lead to start the round evaporated, he trailed New Mexico pro golfer Samuel Saunders by five strokes.
“At that point, I was like you can either crumble and keep making bogeys or make a run at this thing,” Hirsch said. “I said, ‘Let’s be aggressive and see if we can do something here at the end.’”
In the end, however, Hirsch’s rally fell just short as Saunders won the tournament on the second playoff hole.
“This is why I play golf,” Saunders said. “I love to be in the competition and it was just so much fun.”
The final result didn’t in anyway diminish what Hirsch was able to do to give himself a shot at victory.
After enduring a run of four bogeys in five holes midway through his last round, Hirsch turned everything around as he put together one of the great comebacks in Utah Open history.
Hirsch birdied three of the next four holes while Saunders left the door open by bogeying hole No. 17.
Trailing by a single stroke on hole No. 18, Hirsch faced a 25-foot putt for birdie to tie Saunders and force a playoff.
“I knew I had to make it,” Hirsch said. “I just saw Sam (Saunders) hit the same putt right before me. I knew what it was going to do and I got it on a good line. It was probably one of the most exciting putts I’ve had ever.”
The two top golfers at the event headed back to the tee box to replay the 18th hole but Hirsch put his drive in the bunker guarding the right edge of the fairway.
His sand shot landed gently on the green and rolled to about 25 feet from the hole to give him another long putt — but Saunders was only about 10 feet away.
Once again, Hirsch’s putter was up to the challenge.
“It was such a good putt and broke the whole way right in the center,” Hirsch said. “I thought I won it with that one.”
After his putt rolled in, all the pressure was on Saunders.
“It was so cool,” Saunders said. “That’s why I play, for a moment like that where you have to make a putt to continue. There is no feeling like it. I try to have my same routine all the time but that’s when you know your routine works. I was able to stick to my routine well and hit a great putt.”
Since both golfers came away with birdies, the duo had to move to a second playoff hole and again went back to take on hole No. 18 for the third time on the day.
Once again, Hirsch’s drive found the same bunker. This time his second shot, however, came up just short of the green. He chipped his ball to about 5 feet from the hole, then could only watch as Saunders took his birdie putt from 20 feet away.
When that putt drifted an inch to the right of the cup, Hirsch had one more chance to keep his title hopes alive. This time, however, his putt didn’t do what he wanted it to do.
“It was a tough putt,” Hirsch said. “It was 5 feet out and probably breaking 4 or 5 inches — and very fast. It’s one of those where you can almost hit it sideways and it is going to get to the hole. I tried to be aggressive with it but pushed it right off the face. I missed the hole by like 6 inches, so it never had a chance.”
Saunders said Hirsch’s performance was amazing to watch and he was just thrilled to emerge with the win.
“It was spectacular,” Saunders said. “He had some beautiful shots. I don’t think he missed a shot from No. 14 on. He had one bad tee shot on No. 17 and then hit probably the best chip shot I’ve ever seen in my life. That was unbelievable. He played fantastic golf.”
Hirsch ended up in second place as the low amateur in the tournament at 14-under-par for the tournament. He was the only amateur inside the Top 10.
Cougar teammate Brock Stanger ended up tied for 10th as he shot a 5-under-par in the final round to finish at 9-under-par for the tournament.
Former BYU star Dean Wilson ended up at 11-under-par overall and tied for sixth, while Cougar Rhett Rasmussen and former BYU golfer Jordan Rodgers tied for 12th at 8-under-par.
For complete results, go to http://utahpga.com.