PROVO – Zac Blair loves golf and may play more rounds than anyone on the planet. As an exempt player on the PGA Tour, the Ogden native and former BYU standout rarely takes a week off as he led the tour with 32 tournaments played this past season. He’s famous for searching for golf courses in the area he’s playing for the week for extra rounds of golf.
So it’s not surprising that less than a week after finishing up the 2016-17 PGA Tour season – in heartbreaking fashion by the way – that Blair has entered the Siegfried & Jensen Utah Open, which gets underway Friday at Riverside Country Club.
Blair will be the headliner in a field of 156 golfers, 119 of whom are Utah professionals and amateurs, who will play for a $120,000 overall purse Friday through Sunday. After missing out on the FedEx playoffs, which began yesterday in New York, Blair decided to come home and play a course he is extremely familiar with from his days on the BYU golf team.
“I was home for the weekend and it’s at Riverside, my home course in college,” he said. “It’s always nice to support your local state’s golf association and the Utah PGA has always helped me throughout my career. I want to give back, hopefully give a little boost to the tournament and it’s always nice playing in your home state.”
Blair’s father, Jimmy, won the Utah Open in 1981 and young Blair said he’s always wanted to win the event after finishing as low amateur three times.
“My dad won it and it’s kind of like the State Am -- my dad won that and I always wanted to win that (he won in 2009). It’s always been a goal of mine to go out and compete and win this tournament.”
The Utah Open will feature nearly every professional in the Utah PGA Section as well as a few out-of-state pros, who qualified earlier in the week at Monday's qualifier, several former champions and some amateurs said, those who earned spots in the tournament. Usually PGA professionals, either from the main tour or the Web.com Tour are not allowed in the tournament, but exceptions are made for local golfers.
“The local tie is a big reason why we would give a sponsor’s exemption,” said Utah Section PGA executive director Devin Dehlin. “It’s good for the event and the sponsors wanted it. It definitely brings exposure and it made sense for the tournament.”
The tournament will also feature longtime PGA Tour regulars Mike Weir, Keith Clearwater and Dean Wilson, who all played golf for BYU.
Blair is coming off a tough weekend when he lost his exempt status for next season by finishing No. 126 in the FedEx standings, just one point out of the top 125. Blair had gone into the Wyndham tournament ranked No. 120 in the standings, but after missing the secondary cut for Sunday’s final round, he could only watch as several players passed him up in the final holes and edged him out of the final spot.
“It definitely stings,” Blair said. “It was a tough Sunday, watching basically every shot that everyone hit, affecting the points, especially down the stretch. You see a guy make a hole in one and another birdie on the last hole to keep you out by a point.”
Still, Blair is keeping a good perspective about the whole thing.
“It’s just one of those deals, part of sports where I didn’t get it done, didn’t play well enough the entire year,” he said. “But it’s kind of a little wake-up call and motivation to maybe work a little harder and do a little better.”
Blair will have some status for next year and has a chance to regain his status in the upcoming Web.com Tour finals, which begin Aug. 31 in Ohio and run for four weeks. If he can finish among the top 25 in that series he will have status for most PGA Tour events.
“I’m looking forward to playing in those four events and getting that good status again and somewhat making a schedule next year on the PGA Tour,” he said. “I’m playing well and excited to go out there and do it.”
OPEN NOTES: The tournament runs through Sunday and the winner will receive $20,000 . . . Colorado’s Zahkai Brown is the defending champion and he’ll tee off at 1:10 p.m. with two-time champion Clay Ogden and 2014 champion B.J. Staten . . . Blair will tee off at 8:20 a.m. with Clearwater and Sandy’s Steve Schneiter, who has played in several PGA Tour events over the years . . . Weir, the 2003 Masters champion, tees off at 12:40 p.m. with Salt Lake’s Tommy Sharp and Hidden Valley professional Ryan Kartchner, while Wilson, the 1999 Utah Open champion, tees off at 1 p.m. with 2013 champion Zach Johnson and Riverside assistant pro Chris Moody . . . Lea Garner is playing in the tournament after earning a spot earlier in the week by winning the first-ever Utah Women’s Open, also sponsored by Siegfried & Jensen. She’ll be playing in a group with her brother Davis Garner, who is a pro at the Impact Golf Center and Park City’s Steele DeWald . . . Other former champions in the tournament include Kim Thompson, James Drew, Pete Stone, Mike Malaska and Jimmy Blair . . . The tourney will also feature several top amateurs such as BYU golfers Patrick Fishburn, who led the first two rounds last year before finishing fifth, behind the state amateur champion Kelton Hirsch, and Rhett Rasmussen, C.J. Lee, Jon Wright, Dan Horner, Cole Ponich and Zach Jones.