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Kragthorpe: BYU product Zac Blair follows father into U.S. Open

Published June 11, 2014 2:41 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It would have made a better story if Zac Blair qualified for last year's U.S. Open at the course where his father once competed in the event, or if tournament organizers assigned him a Thursday morning tee time with an opportunity to lead the tournament briefly, as Jimmy Blair once did.

Even so, this is good stuff. Thirty-three years later, Zac Blair will complete a rare family achievement in Utah golf history by playing in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. If he can qualify for the final round on Father's Day, that would only add to the bond the Blairs will share this week in North Carolina.

"There's so much history at a place like Pinehurst, it'll be pretty spectacular," said Zac Blair, 23.

The Blairs are the second father-son set of former BYU golfers to stage a U.S. Open doubleheader. Johnny Miller famously won the 1973 title and Andy Miller made a hole-in-one on Sunday in 2002. Among homegrown Utahns, the Blairs are following the Summerhayses. Bruce Summerhays, then a club professional, appeared in four U.S. Opens in the '60s and '70s, and his daughter Carrie played in two U.S. Women's Opens in this century.

Jimmy Blair's recent retelling of his story from 1981 at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia was almost a word-for-word match of his account to The Salt Lake Tribune that week.

With an early starting time, Blair shot 2 under par on the front nine and his name topped the scoreboards around the course — but crediting him with a 3-under total — for more than an hour. "I didn't tell anybody," said Blair, 59, who played the PGA Tour for one year and became a golf entrepreneur and successful player among Utah club pros. The error would be corrected, and four bogeys over the last seven holes made him settle for a 2-over 72.

The next day, he posted a 77 with a double-bogey on No. 18, missing the 36-hole cut by two strokes.

The odds are against Zac Blair making the cut. Last year, no golfers who reached Merion via both local and sectional qualifying events advanced to the weekend. With a two-tee format, Blair will be one of the last two golfers to tee off Thursday, at 2:42 p.m. in North Carolina. But that's a minor inconvenience, considering what he had to do to get there.

Blair is playing the PGA Tour Latinoamerica this season. With a two-week break in the schedule, he returned home from Uruguay and advanced from local qualifying at Alpine Country Club in early May, then went to the Dominican Republic. With the tour's first half of the split season having ended, he traveled to Oregon and earned one of two spots in a sectional event June 2.

He shot 7 under for 36 holes and beat the rest of the 50-player field by four strokes, finishing with a 40-yard pitch shot for a birdie. Blair may wish he had saved that one for Pinehurst. He won't be intimidated, having played in several top-tier national amateur events before turning pro this year, but the U.S. Open is "on a totally different level," he said.

Initially disappointed that collegiate golf powers such as Oklahoma State overlooked him, the 2009 State Amateur champion from Fremont High School thrived in BYU's program. Bruce Brockbank, the Cougars' longtime coach, will always remember how Blair as a freshman made a tricky 6-foot birdie putt in a team playoff to give BYU a victory in Fresno State's tournament.

Blair's completing his degree from the school in April, a year after his Cougar golf career ended, impressed Brockbank. So did his mentoring of former teammate Justin Keiley, who became one of BYU's best players in Blair's absence.

Yet what sticks with Brockbank most of all is that inborn Blair trait of battling on the golf course.

"Jimmy's done a phenomenal job with this kid," Brockbank said. "He loves to compete. He's not afraid of anybody. … There are others who outworked him, but he always wanted a match. He'd ask, 'What are the stakes today?' and he'd figure out a way to get it."

In that sense, the U.S. Open requires no explanation.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt —

Just like dad

Jimmy Blair, who competed in 1981, and his son Zac will become the third parent-child duo with Utah ties to play in men's or women's U.S. Opens. The others are the following:

Father Tourneys Best finish Son/daughter Tourneys Best finish

Johnny Miller 21 1st, 1973 Andy 1 T62

Bruce Summerhays 4 65th, 1973 Carrie 2 MC —

U.S. Open

Location • Village of Pinehurst, N.C.

Course • Pinehurst No. 2, par 70, 7,562 yards ­— including par-4s of 529 yards (No. 4) and 528 yards (No. 16)

Defending champion • Justin Rose

Players with most U.S. Open appearances (2014 included) • Phil Mickelson 24, Ernie Els 22, Jim Furyk 20, Stewart Cink 19, Steve Stricker 19

Thursday's TV • ESPN: 7 a.m.-1 p.m., 3-5 p.m.; Ch. 5: 1-3 p.m. —

Keep your eye on ... Major-winners groupings:

5:29 a.m. • (No. 1 tee) Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel; (No. 10) Zach Johnson, Angel Cabrera, David Toms.

5:40 a.m. • Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell.

11:36 a.m. • Ernie Els, Darren Clarke, Louis Oosthuizen.

11:47 a.m. • (No. 1) Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, Martin Kaymer; (No. 10) Retief Goosen, Geoff Ogilvy, Lucas Glover.

Favorites (via pregame.com):

• Rory McIlroy 10-1, Adam Scott 14-1, Phil Mickelson 15-1, Bubba Watson 16-1, Jordan Spieth 20-1.