MIDWAY — Perhaps you've been hearing about this big amateur golf tournament being played in Utah this week. Or perhaps you haven't heard a word about it.
Anyway, for the first time in history, a United States Golf Association event — the U.S. Public Links Amateur Championship — is being played in Utah this week at the Soldier Hollow Golf Course. If you haven't heard of Solider Hollow, it's a fairly new golf course, just eight years old, located right next to the venue for the cross-country skiing events at the 2002 Olympics.
Although the Publinks is a national tournament with the winner receiving an invitation to probably the most prestigious golf tournament in the world, the Masters, it won't draw thousands of spectators as the events at the 2002 Winter Olympics did a decade ago. In fact only a few hundred fans are expected to watch some of the best amateurs in the world compete this week.
Still, it's a pretty big deal for the Beehive State to be hosting an important tournament like the Public Links. So here's a primer on the tournament, everything you ever wanted to know about the Public Links, but didn't know where to ask.
What exactly is the U.S. Public Links and why is it such a big deal?
The Public Links is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA. It may be the second most prestigious amateur golf tournament in the U.S. behind the U.S. Amateur, which is played every August. One reason the Public Links is such a big deal is because the winner has traditionally received an invitation to play in the Masters the following year. That's how Utah's Clay Ogden was able to play in the Masters in 2006 after he won the 2005 Public Links.
How did the Publinks end up in Utah?
For years, many in the Utah golf community have been trying to get a USGA event to the state. Utah was one of a handful of states that had never hosted a USGA event and through the work of several people, including Mark Passey, a former executive director of the Utah Golf Association who works for the USGA, the Public Links was awarded to the state two years ago.
What is the format for the tournament?
It's very similar to the annual Utah State Amateur, which is the longest-running consecutive-year golf tournament in the country.
There are 156 golfers from 42 states and six foreign countries who qualified at various local qualifying tournaments around the country last month. Golfers will play two days of medal play on Monday and Tuesday with the low 64 golfers moving into match play beginning Wednesday. Golfers will play the first round Wednesday, the second and third rounds on Thursday and the quarterfinals and semifinals on Friday. The final 36-hole match begins at 7 a.m. on Saturday.
What differentiates the Public Links from other amateur events?
Unlike most other amateur tournaments, the Public Links is limited to players who don't belong to country clubs and play primarily at public courses. That limits the field somewhat, but nearly 7,000 public golfers from the U.S. and foreign countries competed in sectional tournaments to qualify for the tournament. And did we mention the winner gets an invite to the Masters.
Who are some of the past champions?
Former Masters champion Trevor Immelman is a former winner, along with PGA Tour regulars such as Ryan Moore, Brandt Snedeker, D. J. Trahan, Hunter Haas, Tim Clark and Billy Mayfair. The most famous champion as far as Utahns are concerned is Clay Ogden, who won in 2005, defeating Michelle Wie in the quarterfinals.
How many Utah players are in the field?
Four, including former State Amateur champions Dan Horner and Zac Blair, recent Salt Lake City Amateur champion Nick Drost of Cottonwood Heights and J.T. Timmons of Salt Lake. Also, a pair of BYU golfers — Justin Keiley of Hawaii and Adam Tebbs of Las Vegas — are in the field.
Who are the top amateur golfers in the tournament?
Derek Ernst of Clovis, Calif., last year's runner-up, would have to be considered one of the favorites based on his finish last year at Bandon Dunes, Oregon. He was an All-American at UNLV, where he finished a four-year career in May.
University of Washington golfer Chris Williams is the No. 2 ranked amateur in the world and Cheng-Tsung Pan of Chinese Taipei is No. 12 in the world.
Two players I'm going to keep an eye on are Cory Sciupider of New Caledonia and Zecheng Dou of China, just because I've never heard of any top golfers from New Caledonia or China.
How does one get a ticket to the Public Links?
It's very easy. Just show up at Soldier Hollow and you can watch for free. It's not like a U.S. Open where there are thousands of spectators roped off from the action. And parking is free also.
Why should I go up to watch the Public Links tournament?
Because you'll be watching many of the finest amateur golfers in the world, some of whom might be on the PGA Tour someday. Plus what's better than getting some exercise walking a beautiful golf course, while enjoying the striking scenery in the cooler mountain air.