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Grace Summerhays aiming to top brother Preston's feat at last year's Utah State Amateur

MIDWAY — Nobody, besides Preston Summerhays, thought the 15-year-old had any chance of winning the Utah Men’s State Amateur last summer at Oakridge Country Club. He did, though, winning six matches to become the youngest champion in the 120-year history of the venerable tournament

As this year’s State Amateur gets under way at Soldier Hollow Golf Course Monday, nobody thinks his younger sister, Grace, has any chance of winning this year, which would mean she would not only be the first woman to win the event, but the youngest person ever, eclipsing Preston’s feat of a year ago. Well, almost nobody.

When a reporter asked Grace what her goal this week was, suggesting that getting to the 64-player match play might be a big accomplishment for any 14-year-old, she hesitated and put the reporter in his place with her response.

“Well, I mean, if I could win it, that’s my goal,” she said. “You never know.”

Of course, why would anyone doubt a Summerhays?

Besides Preston's 2018 victory, his uncle, Daniel, won the State Am in 2000 as a 16-year-old, becoming the second-youngest winner at the time. A few years before that, Preston and Grace’s father, Boyd, played in his first-ever State Am at the age of 12.

Grace did strike a realistic tone about her chances as the interview went on.

“The first two days, I want to make match play because no girl has ever done that and that would be pretty cool,” she said. “Then if I do that, hopefully I can win a couple of matches. It’s important to take it day by day, match by match.”

A year earlier, Preston exhibited the same confidence his sister is showing. He said he didn’t “expect” to win, but wasn’t surprised by his victory.

“I had it for a goal that year and it was something I was working toward,” he said. “So when I won it, I wasn’t surprised, because it was something I was working toward.”

Preston Summerhays hits from the fairway while playing Kyler Dunkle in the Utah State Amateur Championship at Oak Ridge Country Club in Farmington on Saturday, June 16, 2018. Summerhays, 15, became the youngest player ever to win the tournament.
Preston Summerhays hits from the fairway while playing Kyler Dunkle in the Utah State Amateur Championship at Oak Ridge Country Club in Farmington on Saturday, June 16, 2018. Summerhays, 15, became the youngest player ever to win the tournament.
James Wooldridge, Deseret News

Both Preston and Grace live in Arizona, in Scottsdale, outside Phoenix. However, they spend their summers in Utah, where it’s cooler and many relatives reside. Both players passed up Junior World in San Diego this week so they could compete in the State Amateur.

The two play together “all the time” and though Preston usually wins, his sister is gaining on him quickly.

She didn’t start taking golf seriously until the past two years. Before that she “pretty much tried everything” from swimming to softball to tennis to basketball.

“My dad and Preston were always at the course, so that’s where I would go to hang out with them,” she said. “My dad was really good about making it fun and so once he knew I was having fun, then I wanted to get good so I could go and compete. I started getting good and it was like, ‘I can actually do this,' and then I took it seriously.”

Preston, who says he feels no pressure as the defending champion this week, says it’s “awesome” that his younger sister is playing this week and he likes her chances.

“She has the chance to do really good,” he said. “The Silver Course has six par-5s and she’s a great wedge player, so she’ll make a lot of birdies off of that. She’s also very straight off the tee and the Gold Course is a tight course and that is going to suit her strength.”

Their father, Boyd, is a golf coach for Utah’s Tony Finau and several other PGA Tour golfers, but he isn’t one of those fathers who cracks the whip to make his kids play golf.

“Fortunately they have an appetite for work,” he said. “I just try to teach the right techniques so they can learn the proper skill sets. Luckily they both love the game and are passionate about it. They deserve what they get.”

The 288 golfers in the field will play one round at Soldier Hollow’s Gold Course and one at the Silver. Then once match play begins on Wednesday, all of the matches will be contested on the Gold 18.

The two Summerhays siblings will be able to keep an eye on each other the first two days as Grace tees off at 8:55 a.m. on the Silver Course Monday, while Preston is right behind her at 9:05 a.m. For Tuesday’s second round on the Gold Course, they’ll go off on No. 10 at 2:10 p.m. and 2:20 p.m., respectively.

This will mark the sixth time since it opened in 2004 that Soldier Hollow is hosting the State Am. It’s an ideal venue with 36 holes on the same property, allowing the large field to compete out of the same clubhouse.

Former champs in the tournament besides Summerhays include Kelton Hirsch (2017), Jon Wright (2012, ‘14), Cole Ogden (2013), Dan Horner (2008), Nick Nelson (2007), Darrin Overson (1998), Brad Sutterfield (1992) and Steve Borget (1985).

Some of the top golfers to keep an eye on this week are Zach Jones, who has won several events this year, Kurt Owen, who won the Salt Lake City Amateur, and a couple of dozen college players, including Hirsch, Mitchell Schow, Cole Ponich, Jake Vincent, Boston Watts, Jayce Frampton and Andy Hess.