I thought I had a chance, but it was going to take a lot of good golf. —Kelton Hirsch
OGDEN — It wasn’t like Kelton Hirsch had any notions at the start of the week that he was going to win the Utah State Amateur golf tournament at Ogden Golf & Country Club.
“I thought I had a chance, but it was going to take a lot of good golf,” he said of his pre-tournament expectations.
The light finally came on at the end of his semifinal match Friday when he rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole to beat defending champion and pre-tournament favorite Patrick Fishburn.
“As soon as I beat Fishburn on hole 18, that was the moment I thought ‘all right, this could be my year,’” the 21-year-old from Centerville said. “Before that, I wasn’t thinking ahead.”
Following his big win on Friday, Hirsch came back to play nearly flawless golf in Saturday’s scheduled 36-hole final as he took a comfortable 7 and 5 victory over Braydon Swapp, the 20-year-old Utah State golfer who had earned medalist honors earlier in the week.
Before the week began, Hirsch certainly wasn’t a big name in Utah amateur golf circles. He had won the state 5A individual title in 2013 at Viewmont High, where he also played on the basketball team. He was good enough to get offered a scholarship to BYU, but went on a mission to Mexico City after high school, When he returned in June of 2016, he wasn’t ready for college golf and he redshirted this past year.
Working with two-time Utah Open champion Clay Ogden, who caddied for him on the weekend, Hirsch had played better in the months leading up to the State Amateur after a stretch where he said he struggled to make pars, but really put it together for six days at Ogden G&CC.
“I don’t how to describe it, it was so much fun out there,” he said. “It was a great week of golf with great players out there. For me to come out on top was unlikely luckily I was able to do it this week.”
In Saturday’s final, which began bright and early before the temperatures crept up to near 100 again, Hirsch got off to a hot start, taking a 1-up lead after the first nine holes and then increasing it to 4 up by the lunch break.
“Today I came out firing,” Hirsch said. “I was hitting my lines, hitting excellent shots on the first nine holes. Braydon was playing great, but after that I put my foot on the gas and kept making birdies and had a lot of great looks.”
In the afternoon round, Hirsch pushed his lead to 5 up after the fourth hole, but saw Swapp start to make a comeback with wins on the next two holes to cut the lead to 3 up.
Then the match turned for good at the par-3 No. 7 hole.
Swapp left his tee shot on the large green about 75 feet short, while Hirsch was 20 feet away. Swapp’s putt ended up 6 feet away and when he missed that putt, the lead was back to four and Hirsch followed up with wins at the next two holes when Swapp bogeyed and pushed the lead to 6 up at the turn.
“When he missed that putt (on 7), that’s when the match swung, because he got a little down on himself and hit a couple of rough shots and I hit some really good shots,” said Hirsch.
“I had it to 3 down, a decent spot, but that was a really unfortunate three-putt there that let him get the momentum back,” said Swapp. “Kelton is such a solid player, you’re not going to win making pars. I had to make birdies and had a couple of good looks that didn’t go in.”
It ended on No. 13 (31st hole) when Hirsch hit his approach within a couple of feet and Swapp conceded the hole and the match.
“I think it was a pretty good week from being the first seed and medalist and winning matches against good players,” said Swapp, who played for the Weber High golf team and lives in Farr West. “Kelton just played really good today — that first round was about as good as I’ve seen out here. I’m just proud of the way I played this week and the way that I fought.”
By winning, Hirsch became the third straight BYU golfer to win the State Am and will take his new-found confidence to the Cougar team where he’ll join Fishburn and CJ Lee, who lost in the quarterfinals.
“Every good round you play helps with your confidence,” Hirsch said. “To be able to play a good round on a big stage when you need to definitely builds confidence.”
Hirsch plans to play in a few local tournaments the rest of the summer, including the Utah Open next month, before the BYU season starts in September, and he’ll certainly be back to defend his State Amateur title next July.