PROVO — The next time the BYU women’s golf team practices or plays in a tournament, perhaps assistant coach Lea Garner should buy rising senior Lila Galea’i lunch.

Garner can certainly afford it, after she was low pro at the Siegfried & Jensen Utah Women’s Open on Tuesday at Provo’s Timpanogos Golf Club and rode off with the $2,000 first-place check.

“My brother kept yelling at me on the course … just to lock in,” she said. “He was yelling, ‘Lock in, Lila, you got it.’” — 2023 Utah Women’s Open champion Lila Galea’i on her brother, Jray Galea’i.

But Garner, a former BYU golfer from Washington Terrace, didn’t win the seventh annual tournament, as she did in its first two years when it was contested on the same Provo City-owned course, known as East Bay Golf Course at the time.

Galea’i cruised to the win in the 36-hole event, closing with a 4-under 68 to finish at 6-under 138 and defeat second-place Garner (72-69) by three shots.

Defending champion Tess Blair, who won last year at Thanksgiving Point when she made a 50-foot birdie putt on the final hole, tied for third at 1-under 143 with new pro and former BYU star Allysha Mae Mateo and teenager Ali Mulhall, who splits time between Utah and Las Vegas. 

Another new pro and former BYU standout, Kerstin Ngakuru, was in a group that tied for sixth with amateur Isabel Gutierrez-Paillaud.

Incoming BYU sophomore Whitney Banz, who starred at West High and Westminster College before a church mission to Thailand, placed eighth at 2-over 146 (70-76).

Playing in the second-to-last group Tuesday, Galea’i birdied holes 5, 7, 8, 10 and 14 after opening with a bogey. The 2021 Women’s State Amateur champion said the victory “means a lot” because she grew up playing at East Bay before it was reimagined as Timpanogos.

“It was nice to come here, and in the back of my head, I was thinking, ‘You know Lila, you know this course like the back of your hand. You know where you need to be, you know what you need to do, so just stick to it.’”

She said it also helped that her older brother, former BYU football player Jray Galea’i, provided constant encouragement. About 10 family members, including four siblings, followed her entire round.

“My brother kept yelling at me on the course … just to lock in,” she said. “He was yelling, ‘Lock in, Lila, you got it.’”

That she did.

Not a scoreboard-watcher, she really didn’t know where she stood, or that she had a nice lead, on the back nine. So she stayed aggressive, knocking her tee shot just left of the green on the short par-4 14th hole and making birdie there.

“I don’t know why I don’t feel like I just won,” she said. “Right after I made that putt (on 18), I was like, ‘Did I just win? I don’t feel like I just won.’”

The win means Galea’i gets to play in the Siegfried & Jensen Utah Open next week at Riverside, which is the BYU women’s golf team’s home course. She’s ready to make some noise, she said, as Ngakuru did two years ago when she became the first woman in the 96-year history of the event to make the cut with rounds of 70 and 73 when she was known as Kerstin Fotu.

“Super excited, I mean, it is at Riverside,” Galea’i said. “I always play the tips if I can. I feel like I can keep up with the boys. So that’s just my goal, is to go out there and do the best I can.”

Garner, 29, will be there watching, along with BYU women’s golf head coach Carrie Roberts. Amazingly, Garner, who turned pro in 2017, plays only one tournament a year — the Utah Women’s Open — but always does extremely well. She has won it twice and been low professional four times.

“It helps remind me of what it feels like to compete, which I think will help me with my coaching as well,” she said. “Sometimes you forget that feeling of it.”

What a putt! Tess Blair wins Utah Women’s Open with 50-foot birdie on final hole
BYU golfer Lila Galea’i talks to herself all the way to 115th Utah Women’s State Amateur championship

Blair, the former Bingham High standout, said she didn’t feel like the defending champion because she won last year at a different course.

“I just acted like it was a clean slate for everyone,” she said, lamenting some poor club choices Tuesday that kept her from contending.

Blair recently completed her career at Sacramento State and is transferring to Iowa State of the Big 12 for her final year of eligibility. Beyond that, she’s undecided on whether she will turn pro or not.

“I am not sure. My sister (Sirene Blair) did it. It is a really hard life for women. We will see. You never know,” Tess Blair said. “Sirene is working on her teaching license right now and has a job as a recruiter for the PGA of America. I’m really happy for her.”

Sirene Blair was low pro at the 2019 event at Thanksgiving Point and claimed the $2,500 first-place check, although San Francisco golfer Annika Borrelli won the tournament by four strokes.

Siegfried & Jensen Utah Women’s Open

At Timpanogos Golf Course

Final Results

138 — a-Lila Galea’i (70-68)

141 — Lea Garner (72-69) — Wins $2,000 first-place check

143 — Allysha Mae Mateo (72-71), a-Tess Blair (71-72), a-Ali Mulhall (70-73)

145 — a-Isabel Gutierrez-Paillaud (73-72), Kerstin Ngakuru (73-72)

146 — a-Whitney Banz (70-76)

147 — a-Zoe Newell (76-71), Haley Sturgeon (74-73), Beau Bremer (69-78)

148 — Faith Kilgore (71-77), a-Abbey Porter (72-76)

150 — a-Faith Vui (75-75), Juli Erekson (75-75)