FARMINGTON — After a magical golf career that included victories in every major tournament in Utah, 16 years on the Champions Tour playing alongside many of the greatest golfers of all-time (and winning $9 million along the way), topped off by an astonishing win in the Utah Open at age 64, Bruce Summerhays is retiring from the game he loves so much.
He is playing one last Champions Tour event this month and will then put the clubs away for at least three years as he takes off next month for Tampa, Fla., where he'll serve as a mission president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with his wife, Carolyn.
Oh, he'll still play golf, a game he's loved for six decades, for the rest of his life. However, his competitive days are over, and after his mission he'll be playing golf just for fun.
"When I get back I'll be 69," he said. "I'll still play some golf, but it certainly won't be competitive."
Summerhays has basically been retired from the Champions Tour since 2008, when he went from 25-plus events a year to 11, which is the maximum number a "retired" player can play. He said he might have played a few more years as a Champions Tour member, but serving a mission for his church has been the plan for him and Carolyn all along.
"We've prepared for this and we're really excited about it," he said.
Bruce and Carolyn had originally been called to serve in Ireland for two years as proselytizing missionaries, but a month after their call, they were asked to preside over the Tampa mission. They begin their duties June 28.
Looking back, Summerhays calls his 16 years on the Champions Tour "a grand adventure."
He never dreamed he'd he playing with the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino and countless other professionals who starred on the PGA Tour. Nor did he ever dream he would do as well as he did. He won three tournaments, finished second seven times and banked more than $9 million.
"I couldn't dream it would be as good as it's been," he says.
Before he turned 50, Bruce devised a plan with his younger brother, Lynn, to improve his game in the right ways to have a chance to make what was then called the Senior Tour. He qualified in his first try in the fall of 1994, in, of all places, the TPC of Tampa Bay, then kept earning enough money every year to be an exempt player for more than a decade.
He was able to take Carolyn on virtually every trip and procured the services of each of his eight children as caddies, never needing to hire a regular one of his own. During their time on tour, Bruce and Carolyn made lifelong friends and were especially close to Dave Stockton, Dana Quigley, Bob Murphy and Allen Doyle and their spouses.
Carolyn says they were all welcoming from the start, and Bruce calls them "fantastic" friends.
Before going out on tour, Summerhays had been a club professional for most of the previous 30 years with a short stint as the golf coach at Stanford. He won the Utah State Amateur in 1966 and most professional events in the Intermountain area when he decided to give the Senior Tour a try.
He turned 50 in February 1994, qualified for the tour in November and immediately found success. He finished second three times in his first year on tour, including the Franklin Quest Championship in Park City.
Summerhays won his first senior event in 1997 at the Saint Luke's Classic in Kansas City and then won again the following year at the State Farm Senior Classic in Maryland.
Then in September 2004, six years after his last victory, he won the Kroger Classic in Ohio thanks to a final-round 64, becoming one of a select few golfers to win on the Champions Tour after the age of 60.
In all, Summerhays has played in 450 tournaments on the Senior/Champions Tour since 1994 and won more than $9 million.
Ask Summerhays to whittle down all of his accomplishments to a few highlights, he has a hard time. But with some prodding he can single out a few.
He said the turning point of his career on the Champions Tour came in his first year in a tournament in Georgia.
He had shot a 62 in the first round, but what he remembers is his last full shot. It came at the final hole when he was trailing Murphy by two shots. He had slightly less than 220 yards over water to hit the green on a par-5. He decided to go for it and he cleared the water before just missing an eagle putt that would have put him in a playoff.
"Now, I didn't win the tournament, but I pulled the shot off," Summerhays recalls. "The thing that made the difference is I went for it and accomplished it under the strain. That set the tone for being aggressive for the rest of my career and gave me confidence."
As for tournaments won, it's a three-way tie between his remarkable Utah Open victory in 2008, his Champions Challenge victory with his son, Joseph, in 2001 and his first victory on the Senior Tour.
"The Utah Open is right up there if not the most significant thing I've ever done in golf," he said. "Think about it. I'd been trying to win that tournament for 50 years and at 64 years old I ended up winning it for the first time against a field of really, really fine players, kids that hit it 40 yards past me."
The Champions Challenge was special because of his partner.
"Winning the Champions Challenge at Thanksgiving Point was big because I did it with a son. Because it was with Joseph that was probably the most significant. The Utah Open has to be there with my very first win. There's nothing like the very first win."
Summerhays is not planning on contending in Colorado later this month, but wants to give his large extended family, which includes eight married children and 33 grandchildren, a final chance to see him play.6 comments on this story
"My kids and grandkids want to see me play one more time," he said. "Most of my family will be there (in Colorado)."
Now 66, Summerhays has stayed in great shape with a daily exercise routine and practice and says it's "difficult" to play golf six or seven days a week for months on end.
"People always say, 'I'd love to do that' and I say, why don't you come with me and try it?"
But he's not complaining.
"I've never thought of it as work," he says. "I love golf, I absolutely love it. I could play every day. But I don't desire to do that now. My desire is somewhere else."