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State Amateur ‘Elite Eight’ will feature a strong group of golfers

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2008 Utah State Amateur champion Dan Horner got up and down for birdie out of the greenside bunker on the 16th hole at Jeremy Ranch Golf & Country Club during his round of 16 match Thursday at the Utah State Amateur. 

Fairways Media/Randy Dodson

PARK CITY — The talk at the start of the Utah State Amateur this week was the absence of two-time defending champion Preston Summerhays, who is playing in a big junior tournament in Florida this week.

While Summerhays might have been the favorite, he would have had a hard time making it three in a row, based on the quality of golfers in this year’s tournament at Jeremy Ranch Country Club.

Just look at the eight golfers who have survived to make it to Friday’s quarterfinals.

The list includes a former champion, a former medalist who holds the record for lowest medal score in history, a former Nevada Amateur champion, the low amateur at last month’s Utah Open, a collegiate player of the year, a current collegiate golfer, a former collegiate golfer and a top high school golfer, who will be playing college golf later this year.

Dan Horner is the former champion, who won in 2008 at Soldier Hollow. The 42-year-old has been one of the best golfers in the state since moving from New Jersey nearly two decades ago. He beat Peyton Hastings 4 and 3 in the morning and came back from three down to edge Dixie State golfer Davis Heslington 2 up in the afternoon. 

He’ll have his hands full Friday against Blake Tomlinson, a University of Utah golfer who made the State Am semifinals two years ago in his only State Amateur appearance. Tomlinson, who shot a pair of 64s to win State Am medalist honors in 2018, got by Skyline High golfer Simon Kwon in the first round and beat co-medalist and Jeremy Ranch member Justin Shluker 5 and 3 in the afternoon.

“I’m hitting the ball pretty well. I’ve just got to get the putter rolling,” said Tomlinson. “I’ve got a lot of confidence going for tomorrow.”

Daren Johnson is a player unfamiliar to other golfers in the state. That’s because he lives in Las Vegas and decided to try to qualify for the State Amateur because he had heard good things about it.

The 30-year-old former collegiate golfer already has a strong resume as the Nevada State Amateur champion in 2017, the Nevada Mid-Amateur title and Nevada Match Play title in 2018 and was named the Southern Nevada Golf Association player of the year in 2019. He edged Landon Anderson 1 up in the morning and defeated Boston Bracken 4 and 3 in the afternoon.

Johnson will take on Jake Vincent, who completed a four-year career at Southern Utah last spring by being named Big Sky Conference Player of the Year. Vincent beat former professional Nick Killpack and Dixie State golfer Noah Schone in his two matches. 

After winning his first match easily, University of Utah golfer Mitchell Schow had to scrap to beat future teammate Braxton Watts, who was 2 up after 10 only to see Schow win four holes coming in for a 2 and 1 victory.

Now Schow will face another incoming Utah freshman golfer Brandon Robison, who edged Skyline High senior Tyson Shelley 2 and 1. Robison, an all-state golfer for Viewmont High, had one of the biggest upsets of the day in knocking off BYU golfer Cole Ponich in his morning match. 

Perhaps the hottest golfer in the tournament is Hayden Christensen, a 27-year-old former Dixie State golfer from St. George, who finished in a tie for third overall at the Utah Open and has made just three bogeys in four rounds this week. He was one of three co-medalists the first two days and beat Utah State golfer Andy Hess in his morning match and held off 57-year-old Kirk Siddens 2 and 1 in the afternoon.

“My game is right where I want it,” said Christensen, a former professional (2015-17), who plans to turn pro again after the State Am. “I couldn’t ask for more than the way I’m playing this year.”

Christensen will play Luke Crapo, a 29-year-old financial adviser from Kaysville, who played four years for Weber State. Crapo knocked out former champion Darrin Overson in his morning match and had to go to the final hole to edge BYU golfer Brock Stanger 2 up in the second round.

The quarterfinal matches begin Friday at 8 a.m. with the winners advancing to the semifinals Friday afternoon. The two golfers remaining will be back Saturday morning for a 36-hole final.

A six-man playoff was held early Thursday morning to determine the final three spots in match play and Matt Lyons, Willard Richards and Andy Hess survived, while Steve Croft, Brandon Hargett and Colton Tanner were eliminated. Kelton Hirsch, the 2017 champion, was upset by Watts 4 and 3 in Thursday’s first round. 

Thursday results

Round of 32

Justin Shluker def. Matt Lyons 1 up

Blake Tomlinson def. Simon Kwon 3 and 1

Dan Horner def. Peyton Hastings 4 and 3

Davis Heslington def. Patrick Horstmann 6 and 5

Jake Vincent def. Nick Killpack 3 and 2

Noah Schone def. Hunter Howe 3 and 2

Daren Johnson def. Landon Anderson 1 up

Boston Bracken def. Hayden Banz 1 up

Brandon Robison def. Cole Ponich 2 and 1

Tyson Shelley def. John Owen 1 up

Brock Stanger def. Derek Penman 5 and 3

Luke Crapo def. Darrin Overson 4 and 3

Kirk Siddens def. Tristan Mandur 1 up

Hayden Christensen def. Andy Hess 4 and 3

Braxton Watts def. Kelton Hirsch 4 and 3

Mitchell Schow def. Willard Richards 7 and 5

Round of 16

Tomlinson def. Shluker 5 and 3

Horner def. Heslington 2 up

Vincent def. Schone 3 and 1

Johnson def. Bracken 4 and 3

Schow def. Watts 2 and 1

Robison def. Shelley 2 and 1

Christensen def. Siddens 2 and 1

Crapo def. Stanger 2 up

Friday quarterfinals

Tomlinson vs. Horner 8:00 a.m.

Vincent vs. Johnson 8:10 a.m.

Schow vs. Robison 8:20 a.m.

Christensen vs. Crapo 8:30 a.m.