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Defending champion Jon Wright guts his way to pair of State Amateur match play victories

Published: Thursday, July 11 2013 10:30 p.m. MDT

Jon Wright moves on to Friday's Round of 8 in the 15th Utah State Amateur Championship at Soldier Hollow Golf Course. Quarterfinal matches begin Friday morning at 7:30 a.m. with semifinal matches to follow in the afternoon.

Randy Dodson, Fairways Media

MIDWAY — In all the thousands of rounds of golf he’s played, Jon Wright had never experienced anything like this.

On the sixth hole of his first match Thursday, the defending State Amateur champion felt a sharp pain in his lower back that extended down through his legs. It was so bad, he couldn’t get in position to swing a golf club and had to take a 15-minute break — allowed under the rules — as he lay on the ground trying to work it out.

Somehow, the 42-year-old Wright was able to continue, walking around gingerly the rest of the day, looking more like a man twice his age, and adjusting his swing accordingly. Eight hours later, he was explaining how he managed to win two more matches and make it to Friday’s State Am quarterfinals.

“I knew it was going to hurt every shot,’’ he said. “I just wanted to keep it in play and not make any bogeys. Lucky for me, my putter came alive and I made some putts.’’

Wright is one of eight survivors from the original 288-man field, including four former champions, who will play two matches Friday at Soldier Hollow Golf Course for the right to play in Saturday’s 36-hole final. Wright will play 2008 State Am champ Dan Horner at 7:30 a.m. Following that match, 2010 champion Joe Parkinson will face off against 2011 champ Jeff Evans.

The other side of the bracket features this year’s medalist, BYU junior Cole Ogden, against 54-year-old Jeff Powars, while former Dixie State player Conner Jones takes on Southern Utah golfer Jake Holt.

Wright won last year’s State Am at the Salt Lake Country Club, where he is a member and was the first to admit he had a big home-course advantage. This year he is proving he can win on the mountainous Soldier Hollow layout, even with an injury.

He was on the sixth hole of his morning match against Preston Richards when he hit a nice low draw off the tee and felt a pain he’d never felt before. When he got to his ball for his next shot, he couldn’t get in position to swing the club.

“I either fell forward or had to stand up straight,’’ he said.

After his allotted 15 minutes of trying to stretch or “pop it back in,” Wright was told he had to continue. He tweaked his swing a bit and played through the pain and ended up grinding his way to a 3 and 2 victory.

At lunch, his back tightened up again and he was “back to square one” for his afternoon match against 27-year-old Nathan Nyman. But Wright took advantage of his opponent’s mistakes and made enough putts for another 3 and 2 victory.

Friday, he'll play Horner, who blitzed BYU golfer Jordan Hammer in a third-round match Thursday afternoon. Horner won six of the first eight holes, four of them with birdies, then closed out the match with birdies at 11 and 12 to win 8 and 6.

Horner won the State Am at Soldier Hollow in 2008, but didn't make it to match play at the 2011 State Am at Soldier Hollow. Then last year at the Salt Lake Country Club he lost his first-round match.

Parkinson, who won the State Am three years ago as an 18-year-old just before leaving on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, defeated former champion Todd Barker, the 59-year-old superintendent at Fore Lakes Golf Course, 2 and 1 in the morning and came back to beat John Owen 5 and 4 in the afternoon.

Evans, who won at Soldier Hollow two years ago, beat Clark Jones 2 and 1 and Joey Olsen 3 and 1.

Ogden defeated Jonathan Oettli 2 and 1 and 16-year-old Kai Ruiz 4 and 3.

Holt, a native of Tooele, beat last year’s finalist, Christian Jensen, and 17-year-old Kelton Hirsch.

Jones, who cruised past JT Timmons in the morning, needed 20 holes to beat 17-year-old Charlie Duensing in the final match of the day.

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