They were celebrating in St. George Sunday after one of the town's native sons won his first PGA golf tournament. For that matter, folks all over Utah were excited about Jay Don Blake's victory at the Shearson Lehman Brothers Open in San Diego.
Blake, who taught himself to play golf on the Dixie Red Hills Golf Course two decades ago, finally broke through with a PGA victory after several years of hardships and frustrations.Besides winning the $180,000 first prize, the 32-year-old Blake gains a two-year exemption for PGA Tour events and earns exemptions to several big tournaments, including the Masters in April.
Blake burst on the Utah golf scene as an 18-year-old at the 1977 Utah State Amateur where he advanced all the way to the finals before losing to veteran Arlen Peacock.
He enrolled at Utah State later that fall and in his junior year he shocked the collegiate golf world by winning the NCAA championship at Columbus, Ohio.
After finishing second at the NCAAs the following year and capturing College Player of the Year honors, Blake immediately turned professional, ready to make a career on the PGA Tour. He seemed like a sure bet.
The only problem was, he had a difficult time qualifying for the PGA Tour. For five years he tried and failed. He even gave up playing competitively for 18 months and worked at a hardware store in St. George.
Finally in the fall of 1986, he survived the grueling 6-day PGA qualifying school, barely making it with a final-round 67. He was on his way.
During his first two years on the tour, he played well enough to keep his card each year. In 1988 he returned home to capture the Utah Open, a tournament he had come close to winning several times. But he also incurred some off-the-course troubles. In an 18-month period, his father and brother both died and he went through a divorce.
In 1989, Blake contended at a couple of PGA events, his best finish a third at Atlanta. That same summer, he led late in the third round at the U.S. Open in Rochester, but faltered with a final-round 76. It was his best year on the Tour as he won $200,000 and finished 71st on the money list.
Last year, he fell back a bit, but played well enough to stay among the top 125 money-winners and keep his card for this year. Blake was off to a good start already this year with just under $50,000 in earnings before the breakthrough victory Sunday.
Blake is one of a handful of native Utahns ever to win on the PGA Tour. Several "adopted" Utahns, such as Bill Johnston, Johnny Miller, Billy Casper, Mike Reid, Dan Forsman and Keith Clearwater, have won PGA tournaments.