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Dick Harmon: Zac Blair following in his father's footsteps

Published: Monday, Aug. 3 2015 7:42 a.m. MDT

Zac Blair earned medalist honors at the Ping Cougar Classic last weekend, and has a shot at qualifying for the NCAAs. (Barton Glasser, Deseret News) Zac Blair earned medalist honors at the Ping Cougar Classic last weekend, and has a shot at qualifying for the NCAAs. (Barton Glasser, Deseret News)

PROVO —

If you judge Zac Blair by his size, it'll be your first mistake.

It was that way with his father, and it’s the same with the son.

Jimmy Blair is a Utah golfing legend. The stories of his golfing prowess have followed him out of Ogden for decades. Now his son Zac is building his own legacy and following the footsteps of his father, who earned All-American honors three decades ago.

Both Jimmy and Zac are small in stature, but their golf games can beat you down in short order. They are gamers; they have all the tricks. They take you down with their putters and slip around a foursome with accuracy from tee to green. It's an art form of sorts, and father and son have it in their blood.

Over the weekend, Zac, who may not weigh more than 135 pounds and stands almost 5-foot-7, registered his first collegiate medalist honors when he won the Ping Cougar Classic at Riverside Country Club by one stroke.

Zac Blair watches his tee shot as he competes in the Semifinals of match play of Men's State Amateur golf tournament at Valley View Golf Course in Layton.  Saturday, July 11, 2009. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Zac Blair watches his tee shot as he competes in the Semifinals of match play of Men's State Amateur golf tournament at Valley View Golf Course in Layton. Saturday, July 11, 2009. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

Zac birdied six of his last nine holes in the final round for a tournament low 7-under 65, good for 11-under par or the 54-hole championship.

You shoot 65s and you whip people.

"He has a chance to go to the NCAAs," said his coach, Bruce Brockbank, whose Cougars will not go as a team if they don't win the MWC championships in Tucson the first weekend of May.

Jimmy Blair was also this kind of prodigy. As a ninth grader, he'd compete with and defeat men twice his age, current accomplished seniors like Glen Hatch and Kean Ridd.

"He was a phenom," said lifelong friend Dave Mayberry. "Jimmy would compete in the championship division as a teenager and hold his own. We thought those guys were a hundred years old, but they were really in their 30s."

Jimmy Blair was one of the first native Utah golfers to make BYU's nationally ranked golf team back in the 70s. BYU always looked to California, Texas and Canada for players back then. At tournaments where only four or five guys could be taken by the school, Karl Tucker had to choose who to leave out. Would it be Mike Reid, Mike Brannan, Jim Nelford, Pat McGowan, John Fought or Blair?

Zac Blair, 18, of Ogden, was named the Men's State Amateur golf champion at the tournament at Valley View Golf Course, July 12, 2009. (Brendan Sullivan, Deseret News) Zac Blair, 18, of Ogden, was named the Men's State Amateur golf champion at the tournament at Valley View Golf Course, July 12, 2009. (Brendan Sullivan, Deseret News)

Now Zac finds himself on that path, only at BYU at the present time the Cougars don’t have close to that depth -- and probably never will again.

Zac has now finished in the Top 5 in his last two tournaments and has seven Top 20 finishes this collegiate season. His is ranked as the MWC's No. 1 player in stroke average by Golfstat.com (71.3), ahead of Ryan Peterson of CSU (71.6) and is 97th nationally by Golfweek.com.

"Zac is just a gamer," Brockbank said. "He competes and he has carried us all year. If he can find a way to finish, like he did in this one, he's going to win and keep winning."

His father won the Utah Open in 1981, has qualified for the U.S. Senior Open several times, and continues to be a force in Utah's Section of the PGA.

Zac is the hottest amateur player in the state of Utah. The UGA named him the state's Player of the Year in 2009 and he's already won the St. George Amateur and finished second in the Coral Canyon Amateur this winter. His rise to the top culminated in the summer of 2009 when, as an 18-year-old, he easily dominated the grueling test of the Utah State Amateur championship at Valley View Golf Course.

Blair didn’t defend his State Am title in 2010 because of a conflict with the U.S. Public Links tournament, but he still won plenty on the weekends this past summer. His 2010 titles include the Dixie Red Hills Amateur, Coral Canyon Amateur, Salt Lake City Am, Cache Valley Am, Glen Eagle Am, Eaglewood Open and the season-ending UGA Tournament of Champions.

Zac finished the year with a UGA player performance rating of 20.31, far ahead of Kirk Siddens at 15.11 and Stu Gold’s 14.45. For the second-straight year he earned UGA Player of the Year. Zac is only the third player ever, and first since Todd Barker in 1992-93, to win the award two consecutive years. Kurt Bosen, 1984-85, was the other.

"Thing is, both Jimmy and Zac are little in stature as teens," Mayberry said. "Zac isn't more than a-buck-30 and Jimmy was just as small. But boy, can they play. And can they putt. Jimmy has had his PGA Tour card for I think a year. And he's been on the verge of making the Senior Tour."

At Fox Hollow over the weekend, head professional Rick Roberts lamented the absence of Zac at his amateur event due to the conflict with the Cougar Classic.

"He always plays good here," Roberts said. "Jimmy always played this place so well and he's the same way. He has a knack of really whipping it around here. He does everything right. He plays within himself and that's what great players do."

Mayberry had the rare chance of playing with his old pal Jimmy, and Zac at Spanish Oaks a year ago. He made an interesting observation about the father and son.

Jimmy Blair, say his friends, is a rare breed. He's funny, can get under your skin and is all over the map with his personality.

"He hasn't changed since he was 14 or 35 or in his 50s," said Riverside head pro Robert McArthur. "What you see is what you get."

Mayberry saw three different relationships in 18 holes out of Jimmy the father and Zac the son the day he teed it up.

"There was the coach and a boy, and Jimmy is a fantastic teacher of the game. Then there was the best friends and golfing buddies out on the course. Then, third, I saw a father and a son, a dad talking to his son like normal fathers do. It was remarkable and interesting.

"One minute Jimmy was coaching, another minute they were joking around and teasing each other like friends do and another, Jimmy was telling me Zac was driving him crazy, saying, 'Was I ever like that?'"

And Mayberry would answer, "James, you were far worse than Zac. Back in the day, you could really get under everybody's skin. Ten times worse."

It's natural Zac is a winner, just like his dad.

It's one of Utah's more interesting father and son stories.

And it isn't over by a long shot.

email: dharmon@desnews.com

twitter: Harmonwrites

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