Can someone older than 30 win the Utah State Amateur golf tournament this year?
Newly renovated Alpine Country Club hosts the 123rd State Am, beginning Monday in Highland, and former champion Dan Horner, 43, has his eye on a second trophy
Alpine Country Club general manager Neil Maurer says that the golf course in northern Utah County that will host this year’s 123rd Utah State Amateur “lends itself to the older guy, too,” in terms of being playable for some golfers in the field who have to work for a living.
That’s music to the ears of guys like Dan Horner, a 43-year-old owner of a manufacturing distribution business who “is not playing as much as I would like to” the past few years due to “dealing with machines and employees, and all that comes with that.”
Horner, who won the tournament in 2008 at Soldier Hollow, said he doesn’t feel that old, but acknowledges college and future college players have an advantage in every State Am, due to its grueling nature in mid-summer heat.
Fairways Magazine writer Kurt Kragthorpe “told me I was the oldest guy in the field for the U.S. Amateur qualifying (last week), so that was nice to hear,” Horner said. “I am THAT guy now. So yeah, I guess I am an older guy.”
Just don’t count him out. Horner shot 4-under in the 36-hole U.S. Am qualifying and still has a lot of game, said his good friend, PGA Tour regular Zac Blair.
“I would say my game is trending (upward),” Horner said Thursday in a media event previewing the tournament. “I am not sure what my expectations are, but I am starting to play better, which is nice. If I can keep getting a little bit better, I will have some sort of chance.”
The 2021 State Amateur begins Monday at Alpine CC, returning to the private club near the mouth of American Fork Canyon for the first time since BYU golfer Patrick Fishburn won there in 2016, and runs through Saturday.
Back to a 288-player field after last year’s field at Jeremy Ranch Country Club was cut in half to 144 and the event played in September due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the venerable tournament will feature two rounds of stroke play on Monday and Tuesday.
Half the field will play at nearby Thanksgiving Point the first day, and Alpine the second. Those who begin at Alpine on Monday with play at TPGC in Lehi on Tuesday.
Match play begins Wednesday with the Round of 64 at Alpine, which will host all the match-play rounds; the 36-hole championship match is scheduled for Saturday.
The tournament will be without its reigning champion because former University of Utah golfer Mitchell Schow has turned professional. Teenager Preston Summerhays, the 2018 and 2019 champion, is playing in a national tournament this week.
But the tournament will still produce a worthy champion, said new Utah Golf Association president Stew Walz.
“It will be a true championship test,” said Walz, noting that changes and enhancements made to Alpine’s golf course and practice facilities two to three years ago — golf course architect John Fought designed the renovations — have made it one of the state’s top layouts.
“Alpine used to be a course where you could score on the front nine and then hang on on the back nine,” Walz said. “Now it is ‘hang on’ for all 18 holes.”
Easton Folster, assistant executive director at the UGA over tournament operations and the tournament director this year, said getting the tournament back at Alpine has been on the UGA’s wish list since Fishburn’s win in 2016.
“Alpine is not foreign to championship-level golf,” Folster said. “They have hosted several State Ams in the past. They are very receptive to what we do. … The conditions are always fantastic. The membership wants to have it. I think there are 20 or so Alpine members in the field. They are going to help us put on a great event.”
Horner, Walz and Folster all said it is difficult to determine what kind of score it will take to make match play, mostly because adding often windy and difficult Thanksgiving Point to the mix adds unpredictability.
In 2016, Fox Hollow was the second course and the cut came at 5-over-par 149. Thirteen guys entered the playoff for the last five match-play berths.
BYU golfer Carson Lundell, then a recent graduate of nearby Lone Peak High, was medalist after shooting a 65 at Fox Hollow and a 66 at Alpine for a 36-hole total of 131 — five better than Fishburn and Ute Jose Pelayo.
Now in the middle of an outstanding BYU golf career, Lundell is not in the field this year, but the Cougars will still be well-represented with current or just-graduated players Keanu Akina, Max Brenchley, Spencer Dunaway, Brock Goyen, Kelton Hirsch (the 2017 champion), David Timmins and Elijah Turner in the field.
Timmins, a Brighton High product who began his college golf career at Westminster College, fired a 62 on the Silver Course at Soldier Hollow en route to a 36-hole total of 130 to tie Lundell and qualify for the U.S. Amateur in August at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania. BYU’s Cole Ponich (who isn’t in the State Am, either) shot 131 and also qualified; BYU’s Turner shot 132 and is the first alternate.
So Timmins has to be considered one of the favorites this week, Horner said, along with Salt Lake City Amateur champion Cooper Jones, a 17-year-old rising junior at Lone Peak High and an Alpine member. BYU’s Brenchley, another Alpine member, is also dangerous on his home track.
“It usually comes down to who is playing well,” Horner said. “I mean, if you can hit it far, it is obviously an advantage. Some of these bunkers, you can carry. The par-5s, you are hitting irons into (on second shots). They aren’t long. But you still got to keep it in front of you and make putts.”
Blake Tomlinson, runner-up to Schow last year at Jeremy, leads a group of University of Utah golfers in the field that also includes Martin Leon, Oscar Maxfield, Colton Tanner and incoming freshman Zack Neff, who was second at the SLC Amateur.
SUU star Jake Vincent is another collegian who always seems to play well in the State Am. Former UVU golfer Ryan Barber (+6.3) has the lowest handicap in the field.
Past State Am champs in the field include the aforementioned Horner and Hirsch, Cole Ogden (2013), two-time champion Jon Wright (2012 and 2014), Alpine member Steve Borget (1985), Darrin Overson (1998) and Nick Nelson (2007).