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Mike Sorensen: Golf provides ample memorable stories

SHARE Mike Sorensen: Golf provides ample memorable stories

It was appropriate that Utah golfer Jay Don Blake was back in the headlines this weekend contending for the Senior PGA Championship, where he finished in a tie for eighth, after leading through three rounds.

Thirty years ago today Blake first splashed on the national golf scene when he won the NCAA golf championship as a little-known golfer from Utah State.

That 1980 championship in Columbus, Ohio, was one of the first major sports events I covered as a reporter for the Deseret News and remains one of the most memorable sporting events I've ever attended.

After covering high school sports for the previous months, it was a big deal to get to fly across the country to cover a big golf tournament. The main reason was to cover the BYU golf team, which was ranked among the top teams in the country with future PGA pros such as Bobby Clampett, Keith Clearwater and Dick Zokol.

The Cougars, who won the NCAAs a year later, did well, finishing second to Oklahoma State. However, from the first day, not only did I have the Cougars to worry about, but a shaggy-haired beanpole from Utah State by way of St. George.

Blake had enjoyed a solid spring in college golf, and I remember thinking he could contend, so I wasn't surprised when he was tied for the first-round lead with a 69. After a second-round 71, he was still tied for the lead and he finally started to get some attention.

I've written before how little respect he got, with the scoreboard listing him as Jay "Donblake" and one TV commentator who called him "Joe Don Baker," a Hollywood actor of that era.

After the third round he was still in the lead. However, Hal Sutton was the favorite, and after he took a two-stroke lead on the final day, everyone assumed he would win, including a sportswriter who actually asked him if this was his biggest win.

Blake still had five holes to play when Sutton finished, and he played some of the most clutch golf I've ever seen in all my years as he birdied No. 14, made a 25-foot par putt at 17, then sank a 12-foot birdie on 18 to tie Sutton. Then in a sudden-death playoff, he made another long par putt to stay alive and won it on the fourth hole with a 10-foot birdie.

Thirty years later, while Blake is trying to make his mark on the Champions Tour, his NCAA victory is still remembered fondly.

We don't often write about golfers who shoot 83s, unless it is a heartwarming story like the one that came from last week's PGA Senior event.

Doug Perry, a club pro from Fort Collins, Colo., got up at 4:45 a.m. last Thursday, not knowing he was about to experience "easily one of the best days of my life."

He had just finished a group lesson with four women at 11 a.m. when he got a call asking if he would be interested in playing in the tournament at 2:15 p.m. that day.

Hal Sutton had withdrawn at the last minute, and the tournament was looking for players from last fall's Senior PGA National Championship who lived in the area. Perry was an hour and a half away, and after contacting a fellow professional to be his caddy, they headed down to Denver.

They had to stop at a store called Lenny's to buy a couple of wedges and arrived 25 minutes before the tee time. Perry had time to hit about seven shots before joining his partners, a couple of former No. 1 players in the world, Nick Price and Tom Lehman.

Lehman and Price warmly greeted Perry, who smacked his drive down the middle. Although he ended up with an 83 in the first round, he couldn't have been happier.

"I would have been flipping burgers this afternoon for the men's league had I not got that call," said Perry.

It was neat to see Bruce Summerhays go out in style this weekend at his final event as a Champions Tour golfer.

Summerhays is leaving in a month for a three-year stint as an LDS mission president, and he played his final Champions Tour event at the PGA Senior event in Colorado.

He had wife Carolyn and most of his extended family of eight children and 33 grandchildren on hand to watch him play one last time.

It would be nice to say the 66-year-old won his final event. However, being one of 80 players in the 155-player field to make the cut was a big accomplishment, considering he was one of the oldest players in the field and had only played in three events earlier in the year.

Good luck, Bruce. Who knows, maybe you can come out of retirement for a few more Champions Tour events when you return in 2013.

e-mail: sor@desnews.com