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Golf is former Utah Jazz guard Deron Williams’ main sport now that his basketball ‘ship has sailed’

Former Jazzman Deron Williams is playing in this week’s Utah Open

Former Utah Jazz guard Deron Williams lines up a putt during the Utah Open on Friday, August 16, 2019.
Jesse Dodson, Fairways Media

PROVO — The tall bearded guy in the light-blue shirt and yellow pants with the blue “Illinois” bag probably had the largest gallery of the day in the first round of the Siegfried & Jensen Utah Open Friday afternoon at Riverside Country Club, even if it was just a dozen or so people watching,

It was none other than Deron Williams, the former Utah Jazz star, whose main game these days is golf. D-Will received a special invitation to play in the tournament, which features top professionals and amateurs from Utah and various parts of the country.

Williams didn’t end anywhere near the leaders as his 8-over-par 80 left him in a tie for 131st place and likely to miss Saturday’s cut. But except for a six-hole stretch where he got on a bad run after stepping into a creek, he played pretty close to par.

“I’ve only been playing for 10 years, so the more experience I can get, the better,” said Williams who now sports a 1 handicap. He played in last year’s Provo Open and has played in the celebrity event at Lake Tahoe four times.

Williams plays at Glenwild Golf Club and Promontory Club, where he lives with his wife and four children. He has made Utah his summer home for several years and will be going back to Dallas next week when his kids start school.

He admits that golf is his obsession now and that he’s come a long way from when he started and could barely make contact with the ball when he was “40 or 50” handicap golfer.

“You can’t even put a handicap on what I was when I started,” he said with a laugh. “It was the one sport I played I wasn’t at least decent at. I could pick up a football and throw it and catch it. I’m really good at table tennis, bowling, whatever it is. But golf, when I picked it up, I didn’t have it. That’s what kind of drove me to it. I put a lot of hours into it, a lot of hours.”

At age 35, he has no plans to play more basketball, saying, “that ship has sailed, the game has passed me by now.” On the other hand, he has no misconceptions about making golf a career either.

“I’m realistic,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of friends who see me playing golf and they say, ‘Are you going to go pro?’ And I’m like, ‘Are you going to play in the NBA?’ That’s what it equates to. Yeah you can play basketball, but you can’t compete in the NBA, just like I know better than thinking I can play pro golf.”

Williams does play in some amateur and club events and adds, “Who knows, 10 years from now I might try to do some qualifiers or whatever.”

In his round at Riverside, Williams inadvertently walked into a stream at hole No. 5 and soaked his shoes and pants nearly up to his knees. That was his excuse for a tough six-hole stretch where he went 7-over-par with two double-bogeys and a triple-bogey.

He finally was able to get some dry shoes — a pair of running shoes — and his game improved with consecutive birdies at 13 and 14, followed by a couple of bogeys coming in.

“Tournament golf is a lot tougher,” he said, echoing what he said a year earlier at the Provo Open.

Williams said he’s been invited to get involved in some Utah Jazz-related activities and said “it just hasn’t worked out timewise.”

He’s excited about Utah’s prospects this season, saying, “They’re going to be good. I really like Donovan Mitchell and I really like Mike Conley, that was a terrific pickup for them. They’ve definitely improved their roster since last year, but the West is tough.”

While Williams is back in the pack, the best score Friday belonged to Sam Saunders, a 27-year-old from Albuquerque, who is not the Sam Saunders who plays on the PGA Tour and is the grandson of Arnold Palmer.

Saunders, who finished in a tie for second last year here and two weeks ago won the $100,000 first prize at the Colorado Open, fired a bogeyless 7-under-par 65 to take a one-stroke lead over Wisconsin pro Neil Johnson and Phoenix pro George Markham.

The low Utah golfers at 67 are pro Jordan Rodgers and amateur Kelton Hirsch at 67 along with Idaho pro Travis Holland and Washington’s Ty Chambers.

OPEN NOTES: Two golfers made holes-in-one Friday: host pro Chris Moody at No. 17 and Jere Pelletier at No. 11. ... For the first time ever, two women are playing in the tournament and both fared well as Sirene Blair shot 74 and Sadie Palmer shot 75. ... After Saturday’s 18 holes, the field will be cut to the low 60 players and ties, and the final 18 holes will be played Sunday.

Sam Saunders watches his shot during the Utah Open on Friday, August 16, 2019. Saunders led the field after the first round.
Mike Stansfield, Fairways Media

Utah Open leaderboard

Riverside Country Club (a- denotes amateur)

65 — Sam Saunders

66 — Neil Johnson, George Markham

67 — Travis Holland, Ty Chambers, Jordan Rodgers, a-Kelton Hirsch

68 — Russell Grove, Justin Keiley, Mark Baldwin, Mitch Carlson

69 — Tommy Sharp, Mark Owen, a-Kirk Siddens, Blake Cannon, Chris Dompier, Dalton Stanger, Tyler Fullerton, Jacob Holt, CJ Lee, Nick Mason, Chris Moody, Zach Johnson

70 — Dustin Volk, Joe Summerhays, Matt Baird, Brandon Kida, Shawn Edwards, Steele DeWald, Jere Pelletier, Zahkai Brown, a-Carson Lundell, a-Elijah Turner, Josh Anderson

71 — a-Rhett Rasmussen, Derek Butts, John Greco, Phillip Reedy, Luke Vivolo, Joel Skarbo, B.J. Staten, Brock Stanger

72 — Seokwon Jeon, Todd Tanner, a-Shane Brady, Chris Gresh, Pete Stone, Ben Bryson, Nick Norton, Tracy Zobell, Craig Hocknull, Dusty Fielding, Dean Wilson, Ryan Rhees, Eddie Stewart, Brian Thompson, Neil Mauer, a-Tyson Shelley a-Oscar Maxfield

73 — Jayme Backos, Tele Wightman, Preston Alder, a-Dan Horner, Clay Ogden, Chip Garriss, Brad Stone, a-Boston Watts, a-Braxton Watts, a-Spencer Dunaway, Zachary Primavera

74 — Robert Hammer, Joe Barton, a-Ryam Brimley, a-Randy Hicken, Chip Wesley, Aaron Purviance, Doug Roberts, Chris Marx, Kason Anderson, Issac Merry, Brock Padilla, Casey Fowles, a-Spencer Wallace, a-Mitchell Schow, Federico Navarro, Sirene Blair, Scott Brandt