Dick Harmon: Blair calm and cool in Public Links Am advance
MIDWAY — Zac Blair glided into Thursday's second round of match play in the U.S Amateur Public Links Championship at Soldier Hollow.
The BYU senior-to-be from Ogden defeated Bryon Meth of San Diego 4 and 3 on Wednesday. He dropped a birdie on Meth on the first hole, then sauntered around the course, keeping ahead of Meth by two to four holes.
But that is Blair's style.
And it strikes longtime observers as a valuable trait — to take the game in stride, blood pressure barely a blip on the screen. He's as even-keeled as a Yankee clipper on a dead calm sea.
A silk smooth act. His mother must have put Prestone in his bottle.
Nervous Nellies could learn from this kid.
He's barely got a pulse. It appears there's nothing he ever frets about. He spent the previous day qualifying for match play by tapping in par putts like the rest of us would adjust doorstops.
While No. 1 seed James Erkenbeck from San Diego was upset by a risk-taking No. 64 Alex Edfort from Somerset, N.J., with a dramatic, desperation drive-the-green attempt and 50-foot birdie putt on No. 18, No. 16 Blair dispatched No. 49 Meth with a game plan to simply not lose a hole with the other guy making par.
My, this is a simple game.
Blair is so low key, so laid back, it's fun to see a kid like him advance. That he's local makes it better.
To watch him around a course, it's as if he's out for a walk in the foothills of Midway and some flag sticks happened to get in his way.
He's the antithesis of uptight; he moon walks around a course. If something bugs him, you'd never know it. He's Henry David Thoreau with a wedge in his hand; Emerson, hitting it past Walden Pond.
"I hit it pretty well," said Blair. "I hit my driver all right, hit my irons all right and stayed out of trouble pretty well for the most part," he told reporters.
"I cashed in on a few pars where he got himself in trouble a little bit, so it was good to get off to a good start.
"If you can put the pressure on them to where as holes start running out, they start to kind of need to force it, so if you have a lead, it helps."
Blair has been here before on the national scene, having experience at this event last year in Bend, Ore., and winning or finishing high in some of the nation's top amateur events a year ago.
He plays No. 48 seed Paul McConnell of Garland, Texas, Thursday in the round of 32. McConnell knocked off No. 17 Tyler Ekenberg of Apple Valley, Minn., 2-up on Wednesday.
So, does calm, cool and collected have a chance to win this deal?
Blair's chances are as good as any.
"He wouldn't be here and done what what he's done if he didn't have the talent," said Keith Hansen of Logan, one of more than 50 USGA officials helping to govern this giant event, the first such USGA national championship ever hosted in Utah.
Blair is Utah's three-time amateur player of the year, an award presented by the Utah Golf Association. His best round on Soldier Hollow's Gold Course, modified for this championship, is a 6-under 66. Blair would have to have the wheels come off to make a wreck of things here this week, and in the past three days he hasn't come close to doing so.
Blair finished with one of the lowest scoring averages (top three) in major college play this past season, and this is a tournament dominated by collegiate talent.
Blair's opponent Thursday is a senior at the University of Texas-Arlington, who had a 71.64 stroke average, best on his team. McConnell qualified for this by winning a sectional qualifier at the Tangle Ridge Golf Club in Grand Prairie, Texas, with a 6-under 138 over 36 holes.
Blair is favored. This is his home turf, an area he has dominated in the local amateur golf scene all winter and spring.
But golf is golf.
Ask medalist Erkenbeck, who had everything in hand on the No. 18 tee box against Edfort on Wednesday. And lost.
"I just have to stay out of trouble and hope the putter heats up," said Blair.
Once in match play, it's all about winning and advancing.
"It's exciting that this is a huge tournament in our home state and I live just up the road," said Blair.
OK, I take it back.
He is excited.
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