Utah native Preston Summerhays rallies to win the U.S. Junior Amateur golf championship

(Photo courtesy of the USGA/Darren Carroll) Preston Summerhays reacts after making his putt on the 34th hole during the finals at the 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio on Saturday, July 20, 2019.

Utah native Preston Summerhays will celebrate his 17th birthday Monday, after two weeks of phenomenal golf.

Summerhays followed his second consecutive State Amateur championship with a U.S. Junior Amateur title Saturday at the Inverness Club. His 2-and-1 victory over Bo Jin of China in the scheduled 36-hole final match extended his theme of rallies in Toledo, Ohio, after he was 3 down through 16 holes of the morning round.

He made major surges on the back nine to win quarterfinal and semifinal matches Friday, then joined Utah’s long history of United States Golf Association champions that dates to George Von Elm in 1926.

Summerhays was born in Davis County, where his family continues to spend the summers while living the rest of the year in Scottsdale, Ariz. He became the first golfer with Utah ties to win the Junior Amateur title since Scott Hailes of West Bountiful in 1995. Hailes’ road to the title included a win over Boyd Summerhays, Preston’s father and coach.

The U.S. Junior Amateur title gives Summerhays exemptions into the 2019 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst in North Carolina, the 2020 U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes in Oregon and the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot in New York. That will fulfill his goal of playing in a PGA Tour-level event before graduating from Chaparral High School in Scottsdale.

“It's a huge opportunity, and I think to win this and get that opportunity is going to be awesome and amazing in my progression as a player,” Summerhays said.

This victory required some toughness, as Summerhays displayed throughout the week. “He's a polite kid, makes us proud off the course,” his father said. “But the cool thing to me is for people to see the fire he has inside. You saw how bad he wanted it. … Just what people have inside is what allows them to do special things. That's what I love about him.”

The final match was adventurous, with one player or the other winning 18 of the 35 holes played. Yet two holes where he managed to earn ties proved critical to Summerhays' victory. He maintained a 1-up lead in the afternoon by making tough putts for a par on No. 15 and a bogey on No. 16, tying those holes. And then he hit an approach shot out of thick rough and over a tree to within 8 feet on the par-4 No. 17 and closed out the match with a birdie.

Summerhays hit a pitching wedge from 174 yards, a distance he qualified by noting it was downhill and downwind, and he needed 145 yards to reach the front edge of the green. The shot still required precise contract and strength.

“That was the greatest shot of his life,” Boyd Summerhays said.

In the morning round, Summerhays birdied Nos. 17 and 18 and stood 1 down. In the afternoon, he won Nos. 3 and 4 to take the lead and eventually went 2 up. Jin cut into the lead by winning No. 13 and seemingly was positioned to tie the match, but Summerhays kept responding. That was especially true on the par-4 No. 16, where he hit his approach shot over the green, took two chips out of the rough and seemingly had lost the hole, but he made his bogey putt and Jin missed his par attempt.

“My dad has raised me to get over bad shots quickly,” Summerhays said.

Utah’s history of United States Golf Association winners covers nearly a century, dating to Von Elm’s defeat of Bobby Jones in the 1926 U.S. Amateur. Other victories for Utah-connected golfers have come more recently. Hailes defeated future PGA Tour winner James Driscoll in the ’95 Junior Amateur finals in North Dakota. Annie Thurman Young of Alpine, then an Oklahoma State golfer, claimed the 2002 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links title. In 2005, former Davis High School golfer Clay Ogden of BYU defeated Michelle Wie in the quarterfinals on his way to victory in the U.S. Amateur Public Links in Ohio. Salt Lake City resident Kelsey Chugg won the 2017 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur in Houston.