Farmington • Paul Haley II looked forward to spending Saturday night as a co-leader of the Utah Championship, embracing everything that another potential Korn Ferry Tour victory would bring to a golfer who is said to have been “as lost as a pro gets.”
That’s a compliment, considering how Haley has found his game.
His rediscovery process is unearthing big-time results at Oakridge Country Club, where Haley has shot 67-62-67 and is tied with Kyle Jones at 17 under par. They’re one stroke ahead of four players, after Jones caught Haley with birdies on the last three holes as they played together.
“Oh, I’ll sleep great,” Haley promised. “I used to sleep terrible when it got as bad as it did. I’m just excited to be playing really good golf, feeling really confident.”
Sunday’s final round is Haley’s opportunity to win again on this tour, eight years later. “Terrible” only begins to describe his on-course experience in the interim, but that story will be rewritten if he produces a strong final round as expected winds alter the way Oakridge plays.
Ogden native Patrick Fishburn gave himself more to play for Sunday by making seven birdies prior to an 18th-hole bogey to complete the third round. The Korn Ferry Tour rookie’s 65 moved him into a tie for 18th place. Fishburn is seeking every good result he can get — even with potential graduation to the PGA Tour now deferred until September 2021 in a two-season format, thanks to the shortened 2020 schedule.
Oakridge member Daniel Summerhays is tied for 28th after posting a 68 and also has some incentive in what’s scheduled to be his last event as a touring pro. A top-25 finish would give him the option of competing again as the tour moves to Colorado, although he seems more concerned about but just producing a good ending at Oakridge.
His demeanor on the course suggests he’s battling for every birdie, as always, yet he’s clearly trying to savor everything.
“I made a couple dumb mistakes out there, the putts didn’t quite fall, but it was easy to kind of just smile about it,” he said. “I’m really grateful for everything golf’s taught me. … ‘Gratitude’ is still the emotion.”
Haley and Jones stayed in front Saturday, even as Ryan Ruffels birdied the first seven holes, eventually posting an 8-under 63 and joining the tie for third. The absence of fans due to COVID-19 restrictions is even more noticeable during the weekend rounds, with half of the players having departed after missing the cut.
Haley knows that feeling all too well, even as the mini-tour player. Ryan French, a respected observer of pro golf below the PGA Tour level, chronicled Haley’s recent history in making the “as lost as pros get” comment via his “Monday Q Info” Twitter account.
French added, “The fact he didn’t give up is a testament to him and his resolve to get back.”
How bad was it? From 2016-18, Haley had all kinds of trouble even making the 36-hole cuts on something called the All Pro Tour. Those struggles came after Haley was an instant star in 2012 on what’s now the Korn Ferry Tour, winning a tournament and finishing second twice in a stretch of eight events. He advanced to the PGA Tour only two years after graduating from Georgia Tech, where he played for St. George native Bruce Heppler. But then everything crumbled.
Asked after Saturday’s round how he got his game back, Haley responded good-naturedly, “That’s a loaded question.”
The Dallas native’s answer involves renowned instructor Randy Smith. “Even when it got as bad as it did, he wouldn’t let me quit,” Haley said. “You know, just keep swinging.”
Haley’s response came with some emotion; there could be a lot more of that if he follows through at Oakridge. His comeback is a case of “trying really hard to keep the faith,” he said. “It’s difficult. I mean, golf’s hard.”
And that will be especially true Sunday, even after three days when Haley has made the game look easy.
• Playing in the final twosome Saturday at Oakridge Country Club, Paul Haley II and Kyle Jones shoot 4-under-par 67s, remaining tied for the lead in the Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank.
• Patrick Fishburn (65) produces the best round among the three Utahns left in the field, moving into a tie for 18th place. Daniel Summerhays (68) is tied for 28th; Mike Weir (68) is tied for 45th.
• The group of four players one stroke behind the co-leaders includes T.J. Vogel, who won the only United States Golf Association event held in Utah, the 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Soldier Hollow.