Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

126th Utah State Amateur: Why defending champion Simon Kwon of BYU has ‘a lot to prove’ at Ogden Golf & Country Club this week

By admin Jul9,2024

Simon Kwon sights up a tee shot during the final round of the 125th Utah State Amateur Championship at the Salt Lake Country Club in Salt Lake City on Saturday, July 1, 2023.

Simon Kwon sights up a tee shot during the final round of the 125th Utah State Amateur Championship at the Salt Lake Country Club in Salt Lake City on Saturday, July 1, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

BYU golfer Simon Kwon, who redshirted last season after transferring from Cal, has won 11 of his last 12 matches in the Utah State Amateur golf tournament, and took home the title last summer at The Country Club of Salt Lake City.

But the former Skyline High standout says he still feels like a bit of an underdog this week as the 126th State Amateur begins at Ogden Golf & Country Club in northern Utah.

“Honestly, I still feel like I have a lot to prove,” he said last Wednesday after a practice round at the tree-lined course split by the city’s main thoroughfare, Washington Boulevard. “I mean, I redshirted this last year, and didn’t get to compete in the college season. I’m kind of off the radar a little bit. I want to prove that I can compete again at a high level. I am really excited to have the opportunity.”

Kwon, the 21-year-old grandson of Hall of Fame golfer and former television analyst Johnny Miller, rolled past Layton’s David Liechty 6 and 5 in last year’s 36-hole championship match while he was in the NCAA’s transfer portal, then committed to BYU shortly after that. Because he grew up in a house just east of the No. 8 fairway at The Country Club, he had a little bit of a home-course advantage.

Not so this year.

Then again, Kwon said course knowledge, and even talent and skill, take a backseat to “the mental side of the game” in the State Amateur, which forces its champion to win six matches after two rounds of stroke-play qualifying for one of 64 match-play berths.

“There is going to be a match or a round where you are not in it completely, is what last year taught me,” Kwon said. ” If you can learn to power through it and really mentally understand where you need to be, you can win.”

Ogden Golf & Country Club will host what is billed as the longest continuously held golf tournament in the world for the 10th time this week, as a field of 156 chases the most prestigious title in Utah amateur golf.

The tournament begins Monday with the first of two rounds of stroke-play qualifying. After Tuesday’s second round, the lowest 64 players on the leader board will advance to Wednesday’s first round of match play.

If a playoff for the final few match-play berths is needed, it will begin on the No. 10 tee at 7 a.m. Wednesday morning. Round of 32 and round of 16 matches will be contested Thursday, while Friday will feature the quarterfinals and the semifinals.

The 36-hole championship match is slated for Saturday.

The last time the State Am was held in Ogden, in 2017, some 288 contestants were entered and Hubbard Golf Course at nearby Hill Air Force Base hosted the first two rounds, along with Ogden G&CC, so comparisons to this year in terms of what the 36-hole cut will be are mostly nonsensical.

It came at 145 — close to even-par — and then-Utah State golfer Brayden Swapp was the medalist, shooting a 67 at Ogden and a 66 at Hubbard to edge defending champion Patrick Fishburn.

Fishburn, the overwhelming favorite that year, was knocked off by BYU golfer Kelton Hirsch in the semifinals, and Hirsch went on to beat Swapp in the finals.

Other former champions in the field include BYU golfer Zac Jones, former University of Utah golfer Martin Leon (transferring to San Francisco), former pro Jordan Rodgers, Cole Ogden and Jon Wright, who won in 2012 at The Country Club and in 2014 here at Ogden Golf & Country Club.

Dan Horner (2008), Nick Nelson (2007), Gregg Oliphant (2002), Darrin Overson (1998), Brad Sutterfield (1992) and Steve Borget (1985) are also entered.

Horner, who is 46, says an “older” player could break through this year because the golf course is not too long — it will play at about 6,934 yards — and puts a premium on accuracy off the tee amidst the many trees and deep rough.

Par will be 70, as the 482-yard first hole and the 483-yard 16th hole will be considered par-4s in the tournament, although they are par-5s for members.

“I can still hit it OK,” Horner said. “Not like Zac Jones does. So the rest of your game has to be really good. The reality is Zac and Cooper (Jones) and some of these younger guys, their ceiling is higher than ours. But if we stay within ourselves we can still hang around.”

Horner predicted the cut for match play will come at 7 or 8 over par, somewhere in the 147, 148 range.

“It depends on the wind and the weather,” he said after a practice round last week. “This course can get tricky.”

Kwon, displaying the optimism of youth, suggested the cut will be a bit lower, perhaps just a few over par. Cooper Jones, who played two Korn Ferry Tour events in June and made the cut in one and shot 6-under in the other and missed the cut by just a shot, agreed with Kwon.

Zac Jones, who won two years ago at Soldier Hollow, sided with his brother and Kwon, believing the cut will be only a couple of shots over par, if that.

“It is different every year,” he said. “A lot depends on how they set the course up. But there are a lot of great players out there. The goal for me is to shoot under par each day and try to finish as high as I can in stroke play, which sets you up for a little bit of an easier draw.”

Last year at The Country Club, the cut came at 15-over 157 (par was 71) and the course was set up so hard the first day — and it got so windy in the afternoon — that only one player broke par, Utah golfer Davis Johnson. More than half the field shot over 80 in the first round, and 12 golfers shot more than 90.

Colin Clawson, the UGA’s Director of Championships and Golf Operations, said conditions won’t be as difficult this year.

“Last year the greens were insane, like faster probably than we wanted them,” Clawson said. “Everything else was where we wanted it, but then the wind started to blow.”

For his part, Kwon wants the course to be difficult, but within reason. So does Zac Jones, who’s taking a “championship or bust” mentality this week.

“This could be my last State Am, as I finish my college career this coming year,” he said. “So it definitely would be fun to win it again.”


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