Thursday at the 123rd Utah State Amateur golf tournament, when the field was trimmed from 32 to eight, could forever be known as “Comeback Day” at Alpine Country Club.
But that doesn’t truly give justice to what happened, or begin to tell the stories that had even longtime observers of the longest continuously held tournament in the world scratching their heads in amazement.
When everything was settled, eight survivors were left standing in the race to be the one holding the championship trophy Saturday afternoon. The group includes three current or recently graduated BYU golfers, two current Utes, two “older” guys and a 30-year-old financial adviser who also made it to the final eight last year.
Each has a story to tell about how he made it to Friday’s quarterfinals, but none more than 2008 champion Dan Horner, who at age 43 is the oldest competitor remaining.
Horner trailed BYU golfer David Timmins by two holes with two to play after making a complete mess of the par-3 16th hole with a double bogey.
But the manufacturing business owner made an eagle on the par-5 17th, hitting a 6-iron from 226 yards to about 12 feet and sinking the putt. On 18, after Timmins, a former Brighton High star, knocked his approach much closer, Horner drained a 35- to 40-footer to force extra holes when Timmins’ putt lipped out.
Horner then won the 19th hole — No. 1 at Alpine — when Timmins 3-putted from just off the green, making Horner the second quarterfinalist to win his last three holes to win a match. More on that later.
“I mean, you don’t really do that,” Horner said. “You are not supposed to do that. … To do what I did on 16, and then finish that way was pretty cool.”
Horner downed former SUU star Jake Vincent 2 and 1 in a Round of 32 match Thursday morning.
“You just gotta hit shots,” said the transplant from New Jersey. “That was kinda my thought the whole day. Jake and David are two of the best, top-10 players in the state, easy. Just all day I knew I had to hit shots.”
Timmins was in a tight match Thursday morning with seasoned amateur John Owen before Owen had to withdraw after the 13th hole due to a forearm injury. Owen had fought the pain off the entire round, then conceded the match after Timmins won holes 12 and 13 to even the match.
Horner will face University of Utah golfer Martin Leon, who is from Chile, at 7:50 a.m. Friday.
Leon advanced with a 1-up win over BYU golfer Keanu Akina, giving the Utes some bragging rights on a day that BYU was dominating with all six Cougars winning their round of 32 matches.
“I think we came out with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder this year,” said former champion Kelton Hirsch, a just-graduated BYU golfer who is back in the Elite Eight for the first time since winning it all in 2017. “Last year, it was all about Utah, and the Utes killing it, two Utes in the final match (Mitchell Schow and Blake Tomlinson). … I think our guys came ready to play this year and wanted to prove that they could compete.”
Hirsch was in a tight round of 16 match with incoming SUU golfer Leo Torres, a 19-year-old from Las Vegas, when he didn’t concede a 3-footer on hole 13 and Torres missed putt. Hirsch then birdied 14 and 15 to go 3 up and closed it out on 16 with a par.
Hirsch said the Cougars didn’t “actually talk about” making a better showing this year, “but I think it was that unwritten rule that that can’t happen again.”
At the time, it appeared BYU was going to get at least four of the eight quarterfinalists, but Horner had other ideas.
And so did 41-year-old Carl Jensen, a former Ute.
Jensen was two down to former UVU golfer Jake Godfrey with three holes to play. He won 16 with a 10-footer for birdie, then made a 25-footer for birdie on the par-5 17th hole, much to the delight of 20 or so supporters, to tie the match.
On 18, Godfrey missed a short putt for par and Jensen moved on.
“Shocking” is the way Jensen described the win. “Just fun. Just a lotta, lotta fun. I mean, to birdie 16 and 17, it was just a lot of fun.”
With another former Ute, Brock Padilla, on his bag, Jensen says he turned to his caddie on the 16th tee and said, “Let’s go make some memories.”
“And lucky enough, we did,” he said.
Jensen will meet Tomlinson, last year’s runner-up, in a quarterfinal match.
Tomlinson missed a short putt for par on No. 18 that would have closed out Brock Nielson, but got the job done on the 19th hole with a bogey when both golfers struggled with the tricky No. 1 green at Alpine.
What Horner and Jensen did was amazing, but pales in comparison to what BYU golfer Brock Goyen did in his morning match. Goyen trailed Utah State golfer Cameron Tucker by five holes after 13 holes, then won six straight holes to win the match on the first playoff hole.
“It was a crazy, crazy day,” said Goyen, who is from Arizona. “Yeah, it was a very, very insane day.
“Definitely, when I was down five with five holes left to play, I didn’t expect to come out on top of that one.”
In the afternoon, Goyen ran into another BYU golfer, Alpine member Max Brenchley, and emerged with a 4 and 3 win.
“You hate to play against your teammate, because you want to see them win as well. So yeah, it was a crazy, emotional day,” Goyen said.
Unfortunately, he faces another Cougar in the quarterfinals at 8 a.m.
Former BYU ace Spencer Dunaway beat Ryan Brimley 4 and 2 to advance. He and Goyen will square off at 8 a.m.
The “other” quarterfinalist is Lucas Crapo, a former Weber State golfer who figures he shot 7-under through 14 holes to dispatch Denny Job, 6 and 4. He wants redemption after losing in the quarterfinals last year with some late-match gaffes.
“I kinda got lucky two years in a row,” he said. “I don’t play every day like these college guys. I am just happy to be here.”
The semifinal matches will be held Friday afternoon.