Dick Harmon: Former BYU golfer Zac Blair chasing Latino Tour money

Published: Saturday, April 19 2014 6:15 p.m. MDT

Zac Blair chips during the semifinals of Men's State Amateur golf tournament in Salt Lake City Saturday, July 21, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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The impressive thing about BYU’s conference golf championship last week is that Zac Blair, one of the best players that coach Bruce Brockbank has had in many years, wasn’t even in the country.

His eligibility over, Blair turned professional early this spring after winning his final Utah amateur event, the UGA Winterchamps in St. George back in March. The next day he flew to Mexico where he began his professional career on the PGA Latino America Tour.

Today, Blair is tied for fifth, five strokes behind leader Fermin Noste in Cordoba, Argentina, heading into the final round. Blair’s two-under par score is three strokes behind former Master’s winner and Argentine native Angel Cabrera. Blair is set to have his highest finish as a professional golfer.

So far, Blair has tied for 17th in Guadalajara, Mexico; tied for 25th in Antigua, Guatemala, and tied for 20th in the Mundo Maya Open in Merida, Mexico. He began this week ranked No. 40 on the Order of Merit (money winnings) after just three events.

Next week, the Latino Tour stop is in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Before today, paychecks have totaled around $5,000 but should climb higher with a solid finish today in Cordoba.

Blair’s decision to turn pro quickly impacted the local amateur golf scene where he’d dominated since high school and during his career at BYU. He was named the UGA Golfer of the Year five times — an unprecedented feat in this state.

In his final amateur event, a Stableford scoring event called Winterchamps, Blair posted 99 points in the two-day event at Coral Canyon and Sun River. He played without a bogey in his final round at Sun River. His Stableford point total was the second-highest ever recorded in tournament history.

Working with his father, the legendary Jimmy Blair, the duo hatched a plan for Zac to go to Latin America this spring and then return later this summer to play on the Canadian Tour.

According to his college golf coach Brockbank, “One of the concerns Jimmy had for Zac this spring is that he had competitive tournaments to play in once he turned pro. Going to South America opens the door for him to play immediately in a competitive setting and begin his career without waiting.”

Although going to the Latino Tour is an adventure, Blair will face challenges. He does not speak Spanish, and others before him have found that to be a challenge.

Former U.S. Public Links Champion Corbin Mills at Clemson University took off for the South American Tour in 2013 and contracted food poisoning in his first event in Mexico City. He was then caught in a 28-hour travel snarl trying to get from Uruguay to Colombia. His challenges got better when he hooked up with Jacobo Pastor, a Spanish-speaking player from Charleston Southern.

According to Golf World, Mills finished 40th on the Order of Merit with only one top-10. “At the Colombian Open, he shot 64 for the third-round lead, but closed with a 75 to finish T-3. Basically, he spent $40,000 to make $15,429, but said the experience was worth it.”

Ted Purdy, a 40-year-old American, had an easier time adjusting than Mills. He used sign language or an iPhone app to help translate. He once spent $6,000 to travel to Brazil, where he made $665.

"It was awesome," Purdy told Golf World. "Amazing cultures, amazing people, amazing golf courses. They were five times better than the Web.com courses. It was unbelievable how good they were. It's a world-class tour."

Blair’s scoring has been solid. He has two rounds of 67 and his highest rounds have been a pair of 75s. In Argentina, he’s hovered around even par.

Brockbank sees success for his former star because golf is what drives Blair. “From the time he wakes up in the morning, it’s the reason he faces the day,” said the coach.

Brockbank said Blair, with his size, will need to get stronger because he’ll face pros who play the power game and hit it a ton off the tee. “But Zac is extremely good off the tee. He is a very good iron player and he can chip as well as anybody around. When he gets his putter going, he easily makes up for length off the tee, and it's tough to beat him no matter how far you hit it. His chip-putt game is outstanding, the best I’ve seen.”

His coach advises Blair to be aware of the grind, that when he’s not playing well, he has to find a way to keep himself positive and work through things, a challenge for all professionals.

Many in Utah wondered when Blair would turn pro. “He was definitely a guy that if you were going to win, you’d have to defeat him, and not many did,” said Brockbank.

“We’ve had a lot of great amateurs in our state, but I don’t know of many who have done what he’s done in this state the past five years. It’s fun to see a guy who loves to compete. It doesn’t matter what the match is, he is ready to go and ready to play.”

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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