Utah State Am: Ex-Ute guard Chris Grant qualifies for match play
Randy Dodson,, Fairways Media, Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — When we last saw Chris Grant he was making shots for the University of Utah basketball team, where he was a part-time starter from 2004 to 2008.
These days Grant is making his shots on the golf course and he may have come up with the best shot of his life in the dimming twilight Thursday at the Salt Lake Country Club.
Grant fired a 4-iron from 228 yards across the gully at the par-5 No. 9 hole and his ball nestled to within 12 feet. From there, he two-putted for a birdie and became the 32nd and final qualifier for match play at the 114th annual Men's State Amateur.
"I'm excited — it's going to be fun tomorrow," said Grant, still showing his colors, wearing a red shirt with a small "Utah" in front.
Six players had gone off in a sudden-death playoff for the final two spots after the cut came at 152, the highest in 19 years at the State Am. Sandy's Andrew Barton claimed the first spot with a birdie at No. 1 and then Grant grabbed the second with his birdie at No. 9, the second hole of the playoff.
The 29-year-old, who works in investment sales, has only been playing serious golf since the end of his collegiate career, but he said his basketball experience — along with being a junior member at the Country Club — paid off in the playoff.
"I love the pressure," he said, comparing it to shooting a free throw in front of thousands of basketball fans. "It's actually a lot like that, the focus and the whole mindset is virtually the same. The advantages for me were playing here a lot and my experience of playing (college basketball)."
The Country Club course played somewhat easier Thursday than Wednesday's first round when no one could break 70. Three players shot in the 60s in the morning, led by BYU sophomore-to-be Devon Purser, whose 68 gave him a 138 total and medalist honors. In all, 101 of the 156 golfers matched or bettered their scores from the first day.
Purser said "I really don't care about being medalist" because his main focus is winning the whole thing in match play. But he said winning the State Am title "would be awesome because it's the biggest tournament in the state by far."
Another BYU golfer, Mike Jurca of St. George, shot a 69 to finish second at 141, while Kenny You, who won the state individual title at Alta last year and will attend Dixie State in the fall, shot a 68 to finish at 142.
But most of the excitement, as it does every year, came at the end of the day as everyone gathered around the scoreboard to see where the cut would be to determine the 31 qualifiers, plus champion Jeff Evans, for the start of Friday's match play.
Besides Grant and Barton, the others in the playoff were BYU golfer Alton Anderson, Weber State golfer Jordan Herzog, first-day co-leader Mike Jorgensen, who ballooned to an 82 Thursday, and Michael Membrila, a 34-year-old military man who plays out of Hubbard Golf Course at Hill Air Force Base. Membrila, who is originally from Augusta, Ga., shot a 71 Thursday, 10 shots better than the day before.
Anderson and Herzog were eliminated on the No. 1 hole with bogeys, Barton sank a 6-foot birdie putt and the playoff moved to No. 9, which runs parallel to No. 1.
Membrila hit into the back bunker in two and couldn't get up and down, while Jorgensen hit short and missed a 15-foot birdie try. That left it wide open for Grant, who hit his eagle putt within a foot and tapped in for the qualifying birdie.
"When I got to the playoff I felt so calm," Grant said. "There's something about playing here this time of day, it just feels like I'm out there with my dad or my brothers. I felt so calm on every shot in the playoff, which was totally different from my round earlier, I don't know why."
Grant's reward is a match against defending champion and No. 1 seed Evans Friday morning.
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