Three and a half weeks ago, neither Spencer Dunaway nor Elijah Turner would have liked their chances to be one of the final eight golfers at the 2019 Utah State Amateur at Soldier Hollow golf course in Heber.
Their reasoning would be hard to dispute:
Dunaway, a senior on the BYU men’s golf team, was coming off a shoulder injury that forced him to redshirt last season and had gone through a tough time getting back into form.
“I got hurt and so it’s been a process to get back,” Dunaway said Thursday. “ knew how long it would be to come back — but I didn’t really realize how long it would be. We had to revamp my swing because I had a couple tears in my labrum. The motion I was doing before wasn’t conducive for that to happen.”
Turner, a former Lone Peak golfer who will join the Cougar golf team this fall, was nearly 7,000 miles away in Ghana as he was completing his two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“The people there are super-great — but it is really hot there,” Turner said. “It was a great experience.”
But as the State Amateur qualifier neared, both athletes decided to take a chance.
“I had never played in it before and wasn’t a member until right before the qualifiers,” Dunaway said. “I would have hot and cold days, so the consistency was the challenge. It started clicking right before the qualifiers.”
For his part, Turner felt he didn’t have anything to lose.
“I only played golf one time but when I got home my dad said there was a qualifier the second day after I got home,” Turner said. “I almost went straight to the qualifier but I played well. I feel like I hit the ball well since I’ve been home. I was chunking it but I got it back pretty quick. Putting is the problem right now, having a feel for the greens. I’ve been trying to play as many rounds as I can.”
Fast forward three weeks and now both Turner and Dunaway have survived two rounds of stroke play and three rounds of match play to be numbered in the final eight of the biggest amateur golf tournament in the state.
“I was hitting the ball really well — a little bit better than I expected to be three weeks off of the mission,” Turner said. “I putted pretty well and hit my lines. Not all of them fell but I was hitting good putts.”
Dunaway added: “It feels good. It feels good to finally be playing good golf again. It’s exciting to be hitting the ball where I’m aiming. The things we are doing are hard but they are working. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Turner was the first of the two to secure his spot as he defeated former State Amateur champion Dan Horner in the round of 32, 2-and-1, then beat Brennan Coburn in the afternoon round, 5-and-3, to reach the quarterfinals.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Turner said. “I’m really happy with it, that I got this far. Now it’s trying to keep it going.”
It was a little more nerve-wracking for Dunaway.
He edged Christopher Cheney, 1-up, in his first match on Thursday to set up a showdown with former UVU golfer Aaron Smith.
“I felt like I was playing pretty well and went 3-up through nine holes,” Dunaway said. “I felt like I was in command of the match, right where I wanted to be.”
Dunaway built a lead thanks to some great golf early in the round, but Smith refused to go away.
“He hit some bombs,” Smith said. “I think he made a 40-footer. Then the wind came up and made it hard. Spencer is a great golfer.”
The duo competed to the final hole, where Smith couldn’t get a long putt to drop and Dunaway secured the 1-up win.
“Coming down the stretch the adrenaline was rushing,” Dunaway said. “I had a couple where I flagged it but I flew the green. Finally I pulled it back together on No. 18, hit two awesome shots and made a good putt. It was a whirlwind but it was exciting. Aaron is a really good player but it was a good round of golf.”
Even though Smith saw his run come to an end, he said he was pleased with what he was able to do during the week.
“I feel like when you first come out, there are some nerves,” Smith said. “But when you finally get into the atmosphere of match play, I calmed down and started hitting the ball much better. When I play the State Am, it’s nice because I play all these days in a row. It gets me in the groove of golfing.”
Dunaway and Turner — as well as Lone Peak golf coach Steven Croft and Heber’s Zane Brownrigg — make up half the remaining field.
Defending champ Preston Summerhays, SUU golfer Jake Vincent and Utah State golfers Cameron Tucker and Chase Lansford round out the rest of the quarterfinalists.
“I have to keep hitting the ball well and make a couple more putts,” Turner said. “Do that and I think everything will go well.”
Lone Peak golfer and BYU commit Zach Jones and Orem’s John Reid also reached the round of 16 but lost to Vincent and Tucker respectively.
The quarterfinal round is set to begin Friday morning at 7:30 a.m. with the four winners then playing again in the semifinal round on Friday afternoon.
The two remaining golfers will then compete in a 36-hole championship on Saturday.
All of the action will take place on the Golf course at Soldier Hollow golf course in Heber. For complete details, go to http://uga.org.