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Former BYU star Lea Garner makes historic debut at Utah Open, would like two shots back after Day 1

PROVO — Lea Garner made Utah Open history on Friday when she teed it up in the first round of the 91st Utah Open at Riverside Country Club.

So, how did she do?

Playing from the tips with the men, revisiting her home track where she had a sterling college career at BYU, taking her second shots 30 to 40 yards or so behind the men in her threesome, she competed solidly for 16 of the 18 holes.

Two swings cost Garner five strokes — two haunting, devil-be-danged swings that had to rip her heart out. She shot a 6-over-par 78 in a round that she kept around even par most of the day.

But after leaving the scorer’s tent, she was smiling, determined and anxious to get after it in Saturday’s second round.

That's vintage Garner.

“Overall, she played well,” said her college coach Carrie Roberts, who carried her bag as her caddie during the round. “She was even par until that last little bit. Three swings cost her. She made some great putts to give her some chances.”

Roberts has had her BYU golf team play from the tips routinely during qualifying rounds, to create a test, so playing from the backs wasn’t novel to Garner.

Starting the day on No. 10, Garner dipped to 1-under par with a birdie on 13. After making bogey on No. 14, she rolled in another 20-foot birdie on the par-4 No. 16 to make the turn at 1-under par. Her best shot of the day was on the par-5 15th green after she hooked her approach in the bushes. Once on the green, she rolled in a 30-footer to save par.

Then came two swings that really hurt the first woman to ever be invited to play in this historic event. Of note, former Utah Open champion and BYU star Dean Wilson teed off Friday afternoon. He played alongside Annika Sorenstam, the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event, the 2003 Colonial.

Garner won the Utah Women’s Open by one shot last week over former San Diego State star and fellow professional Sirene Blair and she is a three time Utah Women’s Amateur medalist.

On her back-nine, the regulation front, she narrowly missed making a birdie on the par-5 No. 5 hole. Then disaster struck. On the next tee box, she hit a bad tee shot, couldn’t find it and had to re-tee. She ended up making a triple bogey 7.

If that was the worst thing to happen, cruising in with a 75 wouldn’t have been too shabby. But on her final hole, the par-3 ninth, she tried to get a little more out of her tee shot and pushed her ball into the left-side pond. She made double-bogey five to conclude the day.

“It wasn’t the finish I was looking for,” said Garner who Roberts estimates hit nine greens in regulation.

“If that swing is on a different hole, it doesn’t go in the water on nine and maybe it’s a bogey instead of double,” said Roberts.

Garner said she began her round in decent shape.

A year ago, Garner went to Tour Qualifying School and made it to the second stage. She then played on the Symetra Tour this year, a circuit for women. She has an event in North Dakota next week.

Garner’s game plan Friday was the same game plan she’s always hat at Riverside, just hit tee shots, make greens and sink putts.

“It wasn’t really like a whole new thing for me. We play a lot from the back tees and other than a couple of holes, it wasn’t any longer than I’m used to playing at Riverside.”

Garner said winning the Women’s Utah Open the previous week really got her on her game coming into Friday’s start.

“Tomorrow is another day and I can’t wait to get back out there.”

Her playing partners Friday included a pair of professionals, her brother Davis Garner, who shot even-par 72 and Park City’s Steele Dewald, who was at 2-over with his 74.

If Lea Garner hadn’t hit the lake on her final hole and made par, like she did on all other par-3 holes on the day, she would have tied former Golf Channel Big Break participant Gipper Finau with a 76.

But “ifs” don’t count in golf.

Garner knows it better than anyone.