Midway • After a four-year absence, the Utah State Amateur golf tournament returns to Soldier Hollow Golf Club this week with a whopping field of 288 golfers.
The 121st edition of the annual event billed as the longest continuously held golf tournament in the world begins Monday at the state-owned facility that features 36 holes — the Silver and Gold courses — in the foothills above the Heber Valley.
Who will survive six days and possibly 162 holes and be left standing Saturday afternoon?
“It will be a player who can hit the ball straight and far, but who can also get hot with the putter,” said defending champion Preston Summerhays, who did all of that last year at Oakridge Country Club.
Summerhays, son of former PGA Tour player Boyd Summerhays, turns 17 on July 22. He became the youngest champion in tournament history last June and can become the first golfer to repeat since his uncle, Korn Ferry Tour player Daniel Summerhays, did it in 2000 and 2001.
Former BYU golfer Jordan Rodgers won the State Am the last time it visited Soldier Hollow, 2015, but is now a pro, as is 2016 champ Patrick Fishburn and 2018 runner-up Kyler Dunkle.
“That’s the plan, try to do it again,” Preston Summerhays said. The event means so much to him and his family, he said, that he bypassed the prestigious Junior Worlds competition in San Diego to compete this week.
So did his sister, 14-year-old Grace Summerhays, who became the youngest female golfer to qualify for the event and will be the only the fourth female ever to play in the State Am when she tees it up at 8:55 a.m. Monday on the Silver course with Michael Branca and Blake Murray.
“Obviously my goal those first two days is just to get into match play, get a good seed,” Grace Summerhays said. “But after that, depending on how well I am playing, I just want to see how far I can go.”
Preston Summerhays will tee it up at 9:05 a.m. on the Silver in a threesome that includes two other favorites, Utah golfer Mitchell Schow and BYU-bound golfer Cole Ponich.
The list of other favorites would have to include 2017 champion Kelton Hirsch of BYU, reigning Big Sky champion Jake Vincent of Southern Utah University, Art City Am champion Jason Hargett, St. George Am champion Zach Jones (who will join Ponich at BYU this fall) and others high on the Utah Golf Association Player Performance Rankings: David Jennings, Denny Job, Salt Lake City Amateur champ Kurt Owen, Ryan Brimley and Jeff Jolley.
Past State Am champions at Soldier Hollow include Jordan Rodgers (2015), Cole Ogden (2013), Jeff Evans (2011), Dan Horner (2008) and Tony Finau (2006). Of those former champs, only Horner and Ogden, who has regained his amateur status, are in this year’s field.
They have to be considered threats to win it all.
Other former State Am champions in the field: Steve Borget (1985), Brad Sutterfield (1992), Darrin Overson (1998), Nick Nelson (2007), Jon Wright (2012, 2014), Hirsch (2017) and Preston Summerhays, of course.
“Soldier Hollow has two very good courses and will be a tough test,” said Summerhays, who shot a course-record 60 on the easier Silver Course in a U.S. Amateur qualifying event last July. “Being good off the tee is very important there, so I am going to make sure I am driving the ball well going into the tournament. Then it is basically all short game. If I am driving well, I will have some short wedges and some chances to score and really break people down with the putter.”
Wright, the two-time champion, said Tuesday that he’s not a favorite this year, because of tendinitis in his elbow that has caused him to have his worst season in memory. The State Am veteran predicts the cut for match play will come around 4-over-par 148, a bit higher than normal because the wet spring has made for some thick natural grasses and rough.
“You got to get lucky," Wright said after a practice round Tuesday.
Easton Folster, who is the UGA’s director of rules and competitions, said the rough will be pretty thick by the end of the week, but not too difficult the first few days because he’s got to get 288 golfers through two days of stroke-play qualifying.
“We don’t try to kill the players, but we want to differentiate the field enough to make a good cut,” Folster said. “Then we can get creative come match play. That’s the fun part.”
For instance, the tees will be moved up on the Gold Course’s par-4 18th hole to create a risk-reward scenario during match play.
121st Utah State Amateur Championship
At Soldier Hollow Golf Club, Midway
Monday: First round of stroke-play qualifying for 288 entrants
Tuesday: Second round of stroke-play qualifying, field cut to 64 for match play
Wednesday: Match play round of 64
Thursday: Match play rounds of 32 and 16
Friday: Match play quarterfinals and semifinals
Saturday: 36-hole championship match