For amateur golfers in Utah, the crowning tournament every year is the week-long Utah State Amateur Championship.
There are 287 golfers who started the 2018 event on Monday at Oakridge Country Club in Farmington and Davis Park Golf Course in Kaysville, all hoping to survive 36 holes of stroke play and six rounds of match play to be named the champion.
Each has their own story, but for BYU sophomore Kelton Hirsch and UVU senior Carly Dehlin, circumstances are different than for the rest of the field.
Hirsch enters 2018 with the title of defending champion, having defeated Braydon Swapp in the 2017 finals match at Ogden Country Club to win the crown.
He wasn’t the favorite last year, but knows he won’t be sneaking up on anyone in 2018.
“I probably feel a little more pressure than I have before,” he said Monday at Davis Park after finishing his first 18 holes with a 68 (3-under-par). “It’s more than I’ve felt at other tournaments. But it’s nice to be at courses I’m familiar with, so I feel confident.”
Hirsch wasn’t particularly thrilled with his play on Day 1, but said he did what he needed to do.
“I struggled a little bit,” Hirsch said. “I had a couple of birdies, but only had one bogey. I didn’t try to force anything out there. It’s about getting through, since seeding when you get to 64 is just luck of the draw anyway. It’s not necessary to be the low score, so I just played patiently.”
He said that mentality was what he felt like he gained from his championship run in 2017.
“I learned to stay patient and in the moment,” Hirsch said. “In match play, you can only win one hole at a time. You have to not look ahead and focus on that shot.”
The Cougar sophomore now finishes the 36-hole stroke play portion at his home course (Oakridge) and knows that he just needs to be solid to advance.
“The key is to make pars,” Hirsch said. “If you do that, the birdies will come and I’ll be in good shape. The key is hitting the ball straight and being in the fairway.”
While Hirsch had the added target as the defending champ, Dehlin came in as just the third woman ever to qualify for the Utah State Amateur — although she is now the second in the last two years.
“I didn’t know before that you could do it,” Dehlin said. “When Naomi (BYU golfer Naomi Soifua) did it last year, I was like, I should’ve tried to qualify. That’s why I wanted to try this year.”
The biggest challenge, according to the Wolverine golfer, is the length of the course.
“The back tees are a little longer, but other than that, it’s not that bad,” Dehlin said. “It was something I wanted to check off the list and see if I could do it.”
She managed the course well through her first nine holes on Monday and appeared to be in great shape. But, as she knows all too well, things can change quickly in golf.
“I was 1-under through No. 10,” Dehlin said. “On No. 10, I hit it to about three feet and made birdie. But then I misread a four-footer on 11, mis-clubbed on No. 12. I had a couple of bad bogeys coming in, but overall, I played really well. I just had a bad back nine.”
She said believes women’s golf continues to improve and that puts players in position to compete with the men in events like the Utah State Amateur.
“Girls are getting a little more competitive and a little bit better,” Dehlin said. “It’s not far-fetched for them to come out here and compete. There are just more opportunities to play and in college we are playing a little longer. Girls are hitting it longer and being able to compete.”
She finished the day with a 77 (5-over-par), but has Tuesday’s second round as a chance to improve her chances of making the cut.
“I think I could go have a good round at even par or better,” Dehlin said. “My think coming into this week is that I have nothing to lose. We’ll see where it goes.”
University of Utah sophomore golfer Blake Tomlinson — who played in the same group as Hirsch — fired a 64 (7-under-par) be atop the leaderboard after the first day.
The second round of stroke play at the Utah State Amateur Championships will begin Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. at Oakridge Country Club in Farmington and Davis Park Golf Course in Kaysville.