Perhaps it was only fitting that one of the most unusual State Amateur golf tournaments ever thanks to the inclusion and success of Annie Thurman, the event's first female golfer should end in bizarre fashion a day earlier than expected.
Instead of the usual scene of a large crowd cheering on the new champion in the middle of the final green Sunday afternoon, just a dozen or so people stood on the patio Saturday afternoon in front of the Jeremy Golf & Country Club clubhouse where Clark Rustand was awarded the large State Am trophy in an impromptu ceremony.
Rustand, a 24-year-old BYU student from Tucson, Ariz., defeated defending champion Tommy Sharp 2 and 1 in a semifinal match. He would have faced Todd Miller, who beat BYU teammate Clay Bingham 6 and 5 in the other semifinal, today at 7:30 a.m. in a 36-hole final.
The only problem is, Miller wasn't going to be there under any circumstance.
No, Miller isn't sick or injured or leaving on vacation. It's just that he makes it a policy not to play golf on Sundays and not even the prospect of winning the most prestigious amateur title in Utah is going to make him change his mind.
He hoped that the finals could perhaps be played on Monday and Rustand even offered to share top honors as co-champions. But the Utah Golf Association Board of Directors, after meeting with each golfer, decided the only fair decision was to declare Rustand the winner by forfeit.
"I feel sad the decision (by Miller) wasn't made earlier because all of our volunteers have spent all week up here and we're all scheduled to be up here (today) and the country club did everything to make it great for us," said UGA executive director Joe Watts. "We've had players before who haven't entered this tournament because they won't play on Sunday. I think that's the way to do it."
Rustand, who was a JC All-American for Utah Valley State College before playing briefly for BYU, was making his first appearance in the State Am. Although he was the No. 28 seed going into match play, he is a worthy champion after defeating medal runner-up Zach Johnson in the first round, former professional John Owen in the second round and teenager Steele DeWald in the quarterfinals before stopping Sharp.
He's not the first champion to win by forfeit. Back in 1957, Joe Bernolfo was declared champion when Ralph Johnson couldn't compete because of a bad back after warming up on the range.
In the semifinal match, Rustand took a quick two-hole lead on the defending champ with a long birdie putt at No. 2 and an eagle putt at No. 3. He was still one up at the turn and after the two traded birdies at 10, 11 and 12, the lead was back to two.
However, at No. 14, Sharp chipped in from off the green for a birdie to win and when Rustand missed a short par putt at 15, the match was tied.
At this point all the momentum seemed to be on Sharp's side, but at No. 16 Sharp's second shot landed in the bunker, while Rustand's hit the green. Sharp's sand shot went 25 feet past and he couldn't get down from there, meaning all Rustand needed was a two-putt to win the hole.
At 17, Sharp came up short on his tee shot and missed an eight-footer for par and when Rustand two-putted from 25 feet, the match was over.
The first person to greet Rustand coming off the green was Miller, and the two talked briefly with Rustand telling Miller the two should be co-champs.
In his interview right after the round, Rustand said the first two options were to play Monday or make him and Miller co-champions. Of declaring a forfeit, he said, "That's the last option. I'd regret that because I've looked forward to playing Todd all day."
However, about a half hour later Rustand accepted the decision of the UGA and was beaming as he held the State Am traveling trophy bearing the names of the former champions.
Rustand's caddy, Carl Jensen, was almost happier than Rustand about the victory. Jensen and Rustand were teammates at UVSC a few years ago and have remained close friends. When Jensen made the finals against Sharp a year ago, he called Rustand in Arizona on Saturday night and Rustand immediately found a flight to Utah the next morning so he could watch the finals, which didn't turn out the way they wanted.
"Carl is my cheerleader," said Rustand. "My biggest struggle in golf is reading putts and he helped me a ton this week. He wanted revenge against Tommy, and for me to get here and beat Tommy was a thrill for him."
In the other semifinal match, Miller was only one up going into No. 9, but won the hole when Bingham hit into trouble. Then he ran off wins on the next four holes, sinking birdie putts at 11, 12 and 13 to close out the match. Once again he had his father, Johnny, caddying for him and helping him stay positive.
"Clay really had a bad day, for him," said the younger Miller. "That's as bad as I've seen him play."
In the Saturday morning quarterfinal match, Bingham had knocked off medalist Jake Ellison 2 and 1 in one of the best-played matches of the entire tournament. Ellison was well under par and even had a couple of eagles, but lost to Bingham who was about 8-under.
Sharp defeated Brandt Hoffman 2 and 1, a day after Hoffman eliminated Annie Thurman from the tourney, while Rustand beat DeWald 3 and 1. Miller defeated SUU golfer Ben Smuin 5 and 3 in the other quarterfinal.
While Rustand will forever be known as the 2004 State Amateur champion, perhaps he and Miller will settle things on their own sometime."I was looking forward to playing him," Rustand said. "Maybe we'll do it at an undisclosed location later."