I have to be able to play halfway decent if I’m going to play. I’m not going to go tee it up, just to tee it up. Old man par has always been the guy to beat. If I can beat him by one or two each tournament, I’ll be happy. – Bruce Summerhays
FARMINGTON — Before leaving for his three-year stint as an LDS mission president in Tampa, Fla., Bruce Summerhays said his competitive playing days were likely over.
The Salt Lake City native had been a top golfer for decades in Utah but made his mark after age 50 on the Champions Tour, where he won nearly $10 million with three victories. Then in 2008 at age 64, he produced a stunning victory by winning the Utah Open for the first time in his career.
Now 69, less than two months since returning from his mission duties, Summerhays has had a change of heart. He's ready to tee it up again. He'll play in the Siegfried & Jensen Utah Open at Oakridge Country Club this weekend before getting back on the Champions Tour next month.
"I didn't think I would," he said about playing competitively. "But I re-evaluated on a basis of where we wanted to go and missionaries we wanted to see, sort of a dual purpose."
However, the ever-competitive Summerhays isn't playing just for the fun of it.
"I have to be able to play halfway decent if I'm going to play," he says. "I'm not going to go tee it up, just to tee it up. Old man par has always been the guy to beat. If I can beat him by one or two each tournament, I'll be happy."
While he was in Florida, Summerhays says he only played about 15 rounds, which is about the same number of times he's played since returning in early July. He's been pleasantly surprised by how well he's picked it up again.
"It's probably a little better than I thought it would be for not playing for three years," he said. "It is a little bit (like riding a bike), but maybe you fall down a little bit more and you forget where the bumps are sometimes."
As a busy mission president, Summerhays didn't have a lot of time to play and didn't want to set a precedent for people always wanting to tee it up with a famous professional golfer. He said he played a few rounds with stake presidents in his mission and adds, "I did tell my missionaries if they had a progressing investigator, I would play with them. We did a little bit of that."
So would President Summerhays let them win sometimes?
"I don't even let my own kids win," he said with a laugh.
Summerhays, who with his wife, Carolyn, has eight children, 36 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, has no regrets about giving up his golf career for three years to serve his church.
"The mission was fantastic," Summerhays says. "The missionaries were great and most of them are home, so we get to see them all the time or talk to them on the phone every day. It was wonderful, one of the better things that Carolyn and I have ever done."
Summerhays doesn't expect to win this week in a field of 156 golfers, all younger than him, some by more than 50 years.
"These young kids can hit it 50 to 60 yards by you and that's hard to compete with," he said. "You have to really putt to be able to beat them."
As for the Champions Tour, Summerhays can play 12 tournaments a year as a "retired" member as long as he stays high enough on the lifetime money list (he's currently 23rd). In September, he plans to play in the Pacific Links Hawaii Championship, where he and Carolyn can visit their son, William, who lives in Hawaii. Then the following week, he'll play in the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, one of his favorite places to play.
Summerhays tees off at 1 p.m. today with former Utah Open champion Jimmy Blair and former State Amateur champion Steve Schneiter.
"A lot of people wanted me to play in the Utah Open, and I'm not quite ready for it," he said. "But hey, maybe I can shoot my age. If I could shoot 69 every day, that would be a great score for me."