Jay Don Blake, a perennial contender but never a winner at the University Hospital-Utah Open, didn't even decide to play in the tournament until he made a phone call from Colorado about 7:45 Friday morning.
Exactly 12 hours later, Blake was sitting in the press tent, talking about his course record-tying 64, which gave him a 2-shot lead after the first round of the 54-hole $100,000 tourney at Willow Creek Country Club.Blake leads 1979 Utah Open champ Bob Betley, who fired a 66 on the slick Willow Creek greens. Another shot back at 67 are three players - two-time PGA Tour winner Keith Clearwater of Orem, Tom Stankowski of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Greg Harmon of Grand Junction, Colo.
Eric Hoos of Boulder, Colo., and Steve Jurgensen of Houston are tied at 68, while a lucky group of 13 players are tied at 69, including defending champion Perry Arthur.
After firing his 8-under-par round, which tied the competitive course record set by Betley and Clark Burroughs, Blake was his usual low-key self, saying, "I played pretty good today, pretty solid. It was one of those days where the putts all start going in."
Blake had missed making the cut at the International in Denver by one point Thursday and had another committment to fulfill. But he made some phone calls late that night and got out of a scheduled exhibition. He called Willow Creek first thing Friday morning, and was told "Sure, come on over."
Blake was given a 1:30 tee time, which he figured would be easy to make - until he checked on flights to Salt Lake. The earliest flight he could get was supposed to get in at 1:23. So he called back and arranged for the last tee time of the day at 2:30. When he got to the Salt Lake airport, a sheriff's car was waiting to whisk him off to Willow Creek. Luckily his flight came in early and he made it with time to spare.
When he got around to playing golf, Blake got right to work, birdieing the first three holes he played, Nos. 10, 11 and 12. He three-putted 15 for his first bogey, but came back to eagle 17 with a 15-foot downhill putt. He made a 20-foot downhill putt at the next hole to turn at 5-under.
On his back nine, Blake birdied No. 1 with a 2-foot putt, then three-putted the next hole, before coming back with another eagle at No. 3 with a 10-footer following a 3-wood shot. He birdied the tough par-3 7th hole and just missed birdie chances at the final two holes.
The 29-year-old Blake has been playing in the Utah Open since he was a teen-ager and the last few years he has always been a top contender. In 1985 he led after two rounds and lost in a playoff to Mike Reid. The next year, he lost by two shots, which he did again last year.
"It would be nice to win this tournament - everyone wants to win their state open," he said. "Winning any tournament is always a goal."
Although he was won more than $100,000 on the PGA Tour this year, Blake still hasn't won a tournament. He says it doesn't bother him to come here and play as one of the only PGA Tour regulars in the tournament.
"It's not like I haven't played here before. I've been playing in this tournament since I was 17 years old. I don't think I'm anything special."
The 48-year-old Betley hasn't been seen much around Utah this year. He's been fine-tuning his game in nearby states as he prepares to try for the Senior Tour in two years. He finished second in the Wyoming Open, fourth at the Nevada Open and lost in a playoff in a big tournament in Farmington, N.M..
"I've been hitting the ball well," he said. "But the big thing is, I've been healthy for a change this year."
In recent years Betley has been plagued with a variety of injuries such as a broken foot and back problems. The only thing he did this year was drill a hole through his left thumb. He lost the nail, but the pain is subsiding, he said.
Betley, who led the tournament four years ago with an opening 64 before faltering, had an eagle, five birdies and a single bogey at No. 6.
"The golf course is probably in the best shape I've ever seen it, although the greens are a lot faster this year," he said.
Like Blake, Clearwater missed the cut at The International and came over.
"I love playing here. When I was a punk kid, this tournament meant a lot to me and it still does. It's a well-run tournament with great people. It's a lot of fun to play in it," he said.
The highlight of Clearwater's round was an eagle at No. 1 where he chipped in from 25 yards. He made three bogeys in addition to his six birdies.
Harmon is a 37-year-old unemployed professional who would dearly like to do well this week.
"It's been a real hard summer for me. I'm broke and this will be my last tournament of the year. So it's nice to play well here," he said.
In Monday's qualifying, Harmon made a rare double eagle on his way to a 69. He said his round Friday "didn't look that great" as he made five birdies and no bogeys.
The 23-year-old Stankowski just graduated from Arizona State in June and turned pro shortly after. He was in only the third group in and he said at the time it would surprise him to be in the lead. He was right.
Besides Arthur at 69 was 1980 Utah Open champ Ray Arinno, former PGA professional Babe Hiskey and a couple of players who play PGA Tour off and on - Ray Barr and Brian Claar. Also at 69 were former Weber State golfer Scott Geroux, former Utah
State golfer Kent Easton and former Grand County High golfer Ron Vlosich.
The low amateurs both happen to be from the same family. Sixty-four-year-old Vaughn Barker and his 34-year-old son Todd, both fired 71s to lead all amateurs. BYU golfer Roberto Herrera and University of Utah golfer Matt Johnson both had 72s.
A few of the better players had their troubles Friday. Two-time State Amateur champ Bruce Brockbank, who just turned pro for this tournament struggled in with an 80. Stansbury Park pro Jeff Green, who has won twice this year, had a 79, while Park Meadows assistant Scott Brandt, one of the state's better pros, had an 86.
Idaho pro Ron Ptacek had the worst hole of the day. At the par-3 7th, he hit the green in regulation, then proceeded to 6-putt for a quadruple-bogey.