Every golfer understands that the game is about dealing with pressure, whether it’s hitting a narrow fairway, getting up-and-down from a sand trap or staying composed when facing a tough, breaking 10-foot putt.
When you add an annual thrill ride packed with the best amateur golfers in the state, that pressure really gets the adrenaline going.
“This is the funnest week of the year,” BYU golfer Kelton Hirsch said last week. “After winning it and knowing all the hype that goes around, after staying all six days and seeing everyone get excited, it’s just a lot of fun. Whether you only play stroke play or make it all the way to the end, it’s an eventful week and there are a lot of stories to tell afterwards.”
Hirsch will be free of one source of pressure during the 2019 Utah State Amateur Championship this week at Soldier Hollow Golf Course in Heber, since in 2018 he was the defending champion.
“The great thing about this year is that you lose some of the pressure,” Hirsch said. “As the defending champ, you have extra pressure. Now that it is two years since I won it, I think it’s just going to be a lot of fun. Now it is a chance to have fun and see if you can do it again. You know what it takes to make it happen, so if you can do it again it would be really special.”
This year it is 17-year-old Preston Summerhays who has that distinction after winning last year when the State Amateur was held at Oakridge Country Club.
Hirsch said, however, that every year just about anyone could make it to the top.
“It’s a lot of golf and you have to be on your game the whole time,” Hirsch said. “There are a lot of good players out here. It comes down to being able to do it six days in a row.”
Perhaps no one will have fewer expectations than Preston Summerhays’s little sister Gracie Summerhays. She is the fourth woman to ever qualify for the event and one of the youngest golfers in the field at 14-years-old.
“It feels great,” Gracie Summerhays said. “I’ve had this goal for a long time, so it feels really goal. My brother was my caddie (at the qualifier), so he was trying to do his best to get me in. He knew for sure I could get in because he has a lot of belief in me — and I think he’s very proud.”
She said she has seen her brother handle the pressure of being the defending champ.
“He takes it very seriously, so I can tell he is focusing on what he needs to do good,” Gracie Summerhays said. “Last year he putted really well and that’s what pushed him over the edge to win. I think he is focusing a lot on his short game to get it dialed in.”
She just wants to go out and see how well she can do — but there is a hope that everything falls into place for a family showdown.
“It would be awesome to face Preston in a match,” Gracie Summerhays said with a grin. “I would love that. We’ve never had an official tournament against each other because I’ve never played in a guy’s tournament. It would be awesome to see how my game would match up against his. I think he would have the better odds but in golf, you never know.”
The 2019 tournament — now in its 121st year — will start out by pitting the golfers against the Gold and Silver courses during the two stroke play rounds on Monday and Tuesday.
“The key to the Silver course is to take care of the par-5s,” Hirsch said. “There are six par-5s out there and four or five of them are reachable, so you could have eagle putts and make a few birdies. If you take care of that, you can usually score pretty well on the Silver course. On the Gold course, you’ve got to make a lot of pars, especially in stroke play. There are birdie holes out there but you’ve got to work harder.”
The rest of the week will feature match-play rounds on the Gold course as golfers look to survive and advance.
“They move the tees up a little so you have a lot of different options,” Hirsch said. “There are risk-reward shots out there, so you have to be strategic. You have to play to spots and know which holes you can go for and which you can’t.”
The action will start today at 7:15 a.m. at Soldier Hollow golf course. For complete details, go to http://uga.org.