Provo • Samuel Saunders’ name already was written on the $20,000 check as he stood over a birdie putt that he needed to make, just to extend Sunday’s playoff with BYU golfer Kelton Hirsch in the Siegfried & Jensen Utah Open.
Saunders could have missed the putt, tossed the cardboard check into the back seat and started driving, content with the low-pro honor and the money that went with it. But he desperately wanted to keep playing. “That's why I play,” he said later, “to have a moment like that.”
Saunders matched Hirsch’s birdie, won the playoff with a par on the second extra hole and added a crystal trophy to his haul from Riverside Country Club. The playoff contestants each shot 14 under par for three days; Park City’s Steele DeWald tied for third place with a closing 64, finishing one stroke behind and collecting $12,000 (plus a $2,000 bonus as the top Utah Section PGA performer).
Saunders likes to be known as “Sam,” even though his name occasionally confuses him with the PGA Tour player of the same name, who happens to be Arnold Palmer’s grandson. This version of Sam Saunders, a former University of New Mexico golfer who lives in Albuquerque, kept Hirsch from becoming the second BYU golfer in three years to win the Utah Open, having given himself a chance with a big rally. He wanted to join 2017 champion Patrick Fishburn, then a BYU golfer, among the elite group of golfers with State Amateur and Utah Open trophies. Hirsch also would have been the first champion who’s related to tournament director Devin Dehlin, the Utah Section PGA’s executive director.
Hirsch, who was BYU’s No. 4 player in 2018-19, is married to Dehlin’s daughter Carly, a former Utah Valley University golfer. So he had plenty of people cheering for him Sunday, when he began the final round with a two-stroke lead. He made two early birdies, but Saunders soon caught him, and then Hirsch made four bogeys in a five-hole stretch. He was five strokes behind, going to No. 14.
“At that point, I was like, 'You can either crumble and keep making bogeys, or make a run at this thing,' ” said Hirsch, a Viewmont High School graduate. “To be able to bounce back like that really proved to myself and to a lot of people out there that I can play and compete with the best of the pros here.”
He certainly impressed Saunders, who labeled Hirsch’s rally “just spectacular.”
Saunders aided in the comeback, as he stopped making birdies and then bogeyed the par-3 No. 17. Hirsch birdied four of the last five holes in regulation, lipping out an eagle chip on the par-5 No. 15 and almost holing a birdie chip from the rough on No. 17. He made a 35-foot birdie putt from below the ridge on No. 18 and followed with a 25-footer on the same hole to begin the playoff.
“I thought I won it with that one, actually,” Hirsch said.
But Saunders matched his birdie with a 10-footer that made him “really proud of myself,” he said. Saunders then ended the playoff on their last tour of No. 18 as Hirsch's approach shot from a fairway bunker landed short of the green and he missed an 8-foot par attempt.
Explaining his drive to win the tournament, Saunders said, “I don't really play golf for money, [although] that's obviously a great thing I get to do. … Once I go back to playing golf for the love of competition, the love of golf, it helps me out a lot.”
Cash also is beneficial. Like all pro golfers outside of the PGA Tour's membership, Saunders has experienced “a lot of money struggles over the past few years,” he said, and considered giving up the game or finding a job to fund his travels. But then he earned $100,000 in July in the Colorado Open, an event that gives the winner a disproportionate share of the purse (Fishburn tied for second, making $15,500).
So Saunders is in good financial shape now, while planning to enter European Tour qualifying in Portugal in October.
-New Mexico pro Samuel Saunders pars the second playoff hole to win the Siegfried & Jensen Utah Open at Riverside Country Club in Provo.
-BYU golfer Kelton Hirsch rallies from five strokes behind on the last five holes of regulation to force the playoff.
-Special Olympics Utah, the longtime tournament beneficiary, receives a $50,000 donation from event organizers.
UTAH OPEN FINAL SCORES
202 ($20,000) – Samuel Saunders (65-69-68), a-Kelton Hirsch (67-65-70).
203 ($12,000) – Steele DeWald (70-69-64), Mitch Carlson (68-69-66).
204 ($7,000) – Neil Johnson (66-69-66).
205 ($5,500) – Dean Wilson (72-64-69), Blake Cannon (69-65-71).
206 ($3,900) – Tommy Sharp (69-72-65), Ty Chambers (67-68-71).
207 ($3,600) – a-Brock Stanger (71-69-67), Zahkai Brown (70-69-68).
208 ($3,200) – a-Rhett Rasmussen (71-69-68), Phillip Reedy (71-69-68), Mark Baldwin (68-70-70), Jordan Rodgers (67-68-73).
209 ($2,600) – (Clay Ogden (73-70-66), Jere Pelletier (70-73-66), Dustin Volk (70-69-70), a-Carson Lundell (69-67-73).
210($2,100) – Luke Vivolo (71-71-68), B.J. Staten (71-69-70).
211 ($1,600)– Josh Anderson (70-71-70), Joe Summerhays (70-68-73), Matt Baird (70-66-75), Justin Keiley (68-69-74).
212 ($1,300) – a-Tyson Shelley (72-73-67), Dalton Stanger (69-74-74).
213 ($1,150) – Nick Norton (72-72-69), a-Mitchell Schow (74-71-68), a-Ryan Brimley (74-70-60), CJ Lee (69-74-70), Jacob Holt (69-74-70), Nick Mason (69-72-72), Dusty Fielding (72-68-73).
214 ($879) – Glenn Workman (76-69-69), Craig Hocknull (72-72-70), Zachary Primavera (72-70-72), Chris Dompier (69-72-73), Russell Grove (68-73-73), Chris Moody (69-70-75).
215 ($700) – Pete Stone (72-74-69), Ben Bryson (72-72-71), George Markham (66-76-73), John Greco (71-71-73), Seokwon Jeon (72-69-74).
216 ($612) – Eddie Stewart (73-72-71), Brandon Kida (70-71-75).
217 – a-Blake Tomlinson (76-69-72), a-Elijah Turner (69-73-75).
218 ($542) – Tyler Fullerton (69-77-72), Joel Skabo (71-75-72), Tele Wightman (73-72-73), a-Cannon Robison (75-70-73), Brian Thompson (71-73-74), Shawn Edwards (70-74-74).
221 ($490) – Andrew Garner (75-71-75), Aaron Purviance (74-72-75), a-Kirk Siddens (69-74-78), Mark Owen (69-73-79).
222 – ($470) – Derek Butts (71-60-81).
223 – a-Spencer Dunaway (75-71-77).
224 – a-Dan Horner (73-73-78).
225 – ($460) – Thomas Cook (76-70-79).
228 – a-Thomas Forsman (74-72-82).