PARK CITY — The largest field in the history of the Utah Women’s State Amateur golf tournament — in its present format — will tee it up Tuesday at Jeremy Ranch Golf & Country Club in the 117th playing of the premier event for non-professional female golfers in the state.

No fewer than 80 contestants, ranging from ages 13 to 70, have signed up to test the scenic layout in Parleys Canyon, which will host its first-ever Women’s State Am after being the site of several Men’s State Ams, and, back in the day, some PGA Senior Tour events.

“I like my chances a lot. The course is playing really nice. It is not too long. It is very attackable. Obviously they will probably try to hide some pins here and there. I think as long as I get my irons going and my short game going, I have a chance.” — BYU golfer Kerstin Fotu Ngakuru.

It will also be one of the deepest fields ever, with six former champions having entered this year. 

Five-time champion Kelsey Chugg, who added “one (ring) for the thumb” last year at Ogden Golf & Country Club, said the combination of an outstanding course and the fact that there are simply more and more good players joining the ranks each year is the reason why the field — capped at 90 — is the largest yet.

Jeremy Ranch’s proximity to Park City and Salt Lake City could also be a factor, said Chugg, a former Weber State standout who is now Director of Golf for Salt Lake City.

“The course is in awesome shape. I love it up here,” Chugg, 32, said after a practice round two weeks ago. “It is going to be firm and fast, which will be fun. It is a really good strategy golf course for match play.”

One round of stroke-play qualifying for the 32 match play berths will be held on Tuesday. Match play begins Wednesday with a Round of 32 and the 18-hole championship match will be held Friday.

Chugg served notice that she will again be one of the favorites by winning the Utah Women’s Stroke Play Championship July 20-21 at Park City Golf Club, shooting a 2-over 144 to edge BYU golfer Kerstin Fotu Ngakuru by a stroke, Bailey Anderson by three strokes and 2021 Women’s Am champion Lila Galea’i, also a BYU golfer, by four strokes.

Ngakuru won the Women’s Am in 2019 at Logan Golf and Country Club when she was known as Kerstin Fotu. She has one more semester left at BYU before she plans to turn pro, and would like nothing more than to put another Women’s Am ring on her fingers after adding a wedding ring last September.

“I like my chances a lot,” Ngakuru said at Women’s Am media day after shooting a 1-over 73 in a practice round. “The course is playing really nice. It is not too long. It is very attackable. Obviously they will probably try to hide some pins here and there. I think as long as I get my irons going and my short game going, I have a chance.”

Ngakuru, who became the first woman to make the cut at the Utah Open a few years ago, was playing Jeremy Ranch for the first time back on July 19 and found the course to be “pretty straightforward” and one that requires a lot of thinking.

“You have to place certain shots in the right places,” she said. “You certainly can’t hit driver off the tee on every (non-par-3) hole.”

That’s because East Canyon Creek runs through nine holes on the course, which was designed by legendary golfer Arnold Palmer and opened in the fall of 1981.

“This golf course has such an amazing pedigree, starting with Arnold Palmer,” said Mike Bailey, president of the Utah Golf Association. “We simply could not be more excited to see how the best women golfers in the state handle the challenge. It is a championship golf course.

“Jeremy Ranch is one of the best-designed golf courses in the state. The way Arnold Palmer used East Canyon Creek and worked the holes around the creek is just exceptional.”

Along with Chugg, Galea’i and Ngakuru, the other past champions in the field are former Bingham High and Sacramento State standout Tess Blair (2018), Park City’s Julie McMullin (2011) and Arizona State sophomore Grace Summerhays, the 2020 champ at Soldier Hollow.

20 years of memories
BYU golfer Lila Galea’i talks to herself all the way to 115th Utah Women’s State Amateur championship

Last year’s runner-up to Chugg, BYU golfer Adeline Anderson, signed up on the final day and also has to be considered a contender.

Other BYU golfers in the field include Berlin Long, Sunbin Seo and former West High star Whitney Banz.

Banz starred for Westminster College her freshman year before serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Thailand. She said she “had a strong feeling” that she should transfer to BYU while on her mission, contacted BYU women’s golf coach Carrie Roberts with that idea a few months before returning home, and the rest is history.

Banz predicts the cut for match play will come at +2 or +3.

“I think putting will be really important, because these greens are awesome, and really fast,” she said after playing reasonably well in a practice round two weeks ago for a person who went 18 months without swinging a golf club with intent and purpose. “Two-putting these greens will be big. I think it will be a really good tournament. Match play will be really, really interesting.”

According to the UGA, 20 players with 0.0 handicaps or better are entered. Utah golf historian Kurt Kragthorpe of Fairways Media notes that 15 players have first names that begin with the letter ‘A.’

Diplomatically, Chugg declined to list the top challengers to her crown.

“I just know there are a lot of good players,” she said.

Obviously, the long-hitting Galea’i is one of those. She’s one of those first name begins with ‘A’ players, because her first name is Apelila. Her brother, Jray, played football for BYU before transferring to Hawaii.

“There are some holes where you have to play very strategic, and you can’t hit driver on a couple of the par-4s and par-5s,” she Galea’i said. “I just have to lay up and play the hole how it is. That might (take away) one of my advantages, but we will see.”

In the practice round in mid-July, Galea’i hit 4-iron off the tee several times, but still made five or six birdies.

“In my mind, the favorites are Kelsey, Kerstin, Tess, Berlin, Grace Summerhays if she plays (she has since signed up) and some of the younger girls, too,” Galea’i said. “Honestly, I feel it could go to anybody.”

117th Utah Women’s State Amateur

At Jeremy Ranch Golf and Country Club

Tuesday’s Stroke-Play Qualifying Tee Times

7:30 a.m. — Kelsey Chugg, Kerstin Ngakuru

7:40 a.m. — Sarah Hammed, Corinne Lillywhite, Lindsay Cone

7:50 a.m. — Grace Summerhays, Sophie Simon, Apelila Galea’i

8 a.m. — Nuny Khamone, Lauren Parish, Hazel Peters

8:10 a.m. — Sunbin See, Faith Vui, Rachel Lillywhite

8:20 a.m. — Emma Lillywhite, Ashley Lam, Kareen Larson

8:30 a.m. — Aadyn Long, Jane Olson, Reimi Bleyl

8:40 a.m. — Annabelle Millard, Brynnley Bischoff, Pati Uluave

8:50 a.m. — Logan Allen, Grace Williams, Abbey Porter

9 a.m. — Millie Terrion, Lily Shin, Samira Salinas

9:10 a.m. — Adeline Anderson, Whitney Banz, Isabel Gutierrez-Paillaud

9:20 a.m. — Sydney Richards, Jessica Osden, Kyra Sponenburgh

9:30 a.m. — Kate Walker, Berlin Long, Tess Blair

9:40 a.m. — Molli Mulhall, Julie McMullin, Adel Nelson

9:50 a.m. — Katelyn Day, Ellie Jo Olsen, Aubree Johnson

10:10 a.m. — Jenny Jeffery, Jocelyn Barrus, Angie Bloxham

10:20 a.m. — Hunter Gledhill, Whitni Johnson, Annette Gaiotti

10:30 a.m. — Rina Slade, Brenda Castillo Amparan, Taylor Butler

10:40 a.m. — Lilly Wagstaff, Isabel Wade, Kay Joo

10:50 a.m. — Amanda Now, Bridgette Volk, Karen Seaman

11 a.m. — Mikayla Jensen, Carrie Langevin, Katelin Bingham

11:10 a.m. — Adri Summerhays, Amy Erickson, Tiffani Nageli

11:20 a.m. — Ellie DeMond, Jailee Snow, Remi Rawlings

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11:30 a.m. — Monica Hull, Avery Parker, Caroline DeLoach

11:40 a.m. — Cabria Walters, Kris Buchanan, Ashley Smith

11:50 a.m. — Kristen Whittenburg, Christina Padan, Riley Roberts

12 p.m. — Emma Pratt, Katie Mazzie, Tynisha Coleman

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