Driving through the entrance to a historic, prestigious and wonderfully maintained course, Jon Wright knew he needed to quit golf.
That was nearly a decade ago, when coming to The Country Club of Salt Lake City every day to play and practice in the interest of advancing his pro career was becoming a chore.
“I dreaded it. I hated it,” Wright was saying Sunday afternoon, having happily moved on to another stage of his life in golf. “I didn’t like playing. I didn’t like practicing. I didn’t like traveling. I didn’t even like the tournaments. When that starts to happen, you know you’re on our your way out. It was pretty apparent … I was burned out.”
And with that, his long quest to qualify for the PGA Tour — a demanding process that kept teasing him and breaking his heart — was over.
“Honestly,” Wright said, “I just wasn’t good enough. So I’m where I belong.”
Which was standing on the club’s patio, holding the State Amateur trophy after a 3-and-2 victory over Christian Jensen in Sunday’s 36-hole final match. The trophy fell off a table and broke the other day, requiring repair work.
That fits Wright’s story, as a reinstated amateur who’d once had enough of golf. He grew up loving the game at Bonneville Golf Course, where he was raised along the old No. 5 fairway, and The Country Club, where his family became members when he was 15. He’s played 2,000 rounds on this exclusive course, by his rough estimate.
“Obviously,” Jensen said, “that’s going to be a good advantage to anybody.”
Wright, 41, made his local knowledge work for him, playing as aggressively as he does in those Wednesday and Friday contests with 15 or 20 of the club’s better players.
Jensen, the other four golfers Wright eliminated in match play and the guys he occasionally beats in those money games can blame Bryan Bagley for all of this. As a former sponsor of Wright’s pro golf pursuits, Bagley encouraged him to come back and play in 2006, after a couple of years away.
Driving into that same parking lot that evoked frustration and drudgery, Wright suddenly felt different. “It’s going to be fun,” he said to himself.
And that’s how he played Sunday. He blasted a ball over the trees that frame the left side of the par-4 No. 11, where his drive traveled the equivalent of nearly 350 yards, leading to a birdie.
That shot was illustrative of a golfer who’s playing for fun now, as opposed to playing for a living. That’s not to say there was no pressure on Wright, considering the expectations of club members, who kept driving that point home “every day since the course opened in March,” he said.
A son of the late Bob Wright, the runner-up to Scott Matheson in the 1980 Utah governor’s race, Wright himself once was chasing politics and the PGA Tour at the same time. Campaigning during the 2002 tour qualifying process, he lost to Greg Curtis as a Democrat seeking a Utah House seat from Sandy.
That bid was part of his determination, as he said then, “to not base your success or failure in life on whether that stupid ball goes in the hole.”
Yet when that happened for the last time Sunday, Wright was thrilled. Nobody grows up dreaming of making a tough putt for a bogey to win the State Am, but Wright did not care about that circumstance. All that mattered was he made it, completing his victory on a classic course where golf is fun again.