Milan Swilor, always one of the favorites for the Utah Open Players Championship, warmed up for this year's tournament by firing a 78 in Wednesday's Pro-Am at Willow Creek Country Club.
Seventy-Eight?That's right. And although Swilor had one of the worst rounds among the pros Wednesday, he wasn't sweating about his game going into this year's Utah Open, which begins Friday and runs through Sunday at Willow Creek.
You see, the last time Swilor shot a 78 in a pro-am, he promptly followed it with a nifty little 61, which is still the course record and one of the finest golf rounds in the annals of Utah golf history.
That was 1992, and the only thing that diminished that amazing round was that he didn't win the tournament, finishing second by one stroke to Grant Waite, now a PGA Tour regular.
It was one of several runner-up finishes for Swilor in state opens over the years. He's finished second nine times to be exact: three times at the Colorado Open and twice each at the Idaho, Wyoming and Utah Opens.
"I seem to be the eternal bridesmaid," he said.
The 39-year-old Swilor has won just about everything else in the Intermountain area over the years and is more than overdue to break through with a win in a state open. Just last month, he led the Colorado Open for two rounds before being overtaken on the final day by Shane Bertsch.
In fact, it has been an excellent summer for the Sandy native, who also won the Black Diamond Open in Price, won a pro-am at the New Mexico Open and finished third at the Idaho Open.
Now Swilor is hoping he can put it together this week at Willow Creek, where he has played better than most local pros over the past decade. In 1990 he also finished second, losing to Mark Carnevale in a sudden-death playoff. That was the year he shot a then-course-record 63.
"I'm sure my energy level will be higher by Friday," said Swilor, who would like to erase the memories of those close finishes.
"It's been really frustrating not to win here," he said. "It's just a matter of two guys really playing well on the last day (both Waite and Carnevale shot final-round 65s). To win you've got to have the bounces and the putts lip in. It just wasn't my turn."
Of course, Swilor would love to take his turn in the winner's circle this year, but he thinks it would be great for the tournament if any local professional could win the tournament. It's been seven years since a local pro won (Eric Hogg in 1991), and except for local PGA Tour players Mike Reid and Jay Don Blake, no local club pro has won the event since Jimmy Blair in 1981.
Hogg and Blair are both in this year's field, and other local pros who have a chance include Steve Schneiter, Kim Thompson, Nick Klassen, Roy Christensen, Tom Costello, Kury Reynolds, Matt Johnson, Bob Casper and 1974 champion Mike Malaska.
Also, former BYU golfer Brad Sutterfield, who plays on the Canadian Tour after a year on the PGA Tour, is entered as is ex-BYU golfer Joseph Summerhays after playing some Nike Tour and other out-of-state events.
Defending champion Steve Runge is back along with several top out-of-state pros including Joe Acosta, Greg Cesario, Chris Endres and Todd Demsey.
"I think you'll see lower scores this year," said Swilor. "The greens are soft, and there is hardly any rough."
OPEN NOTES: Johnny Miller paid his annual visit to the Utah Open and gave a clinic Wednesday afternoon on the Willow Creek driving range. He said the reason he didn't play in the Showdown Classic this year is because of a knee injury that hinders his play. "I can play one round and then I'm on Advil," he said. "Hopefully next year I'll be back at the senior tournament here" . . . The field of 162 features golfers from 25 states. Utah has the most golfers with 53, followed by Arizona with 27, California with 24 and Colorado with 13 . . . Eric Epperson of Plano, Texas won the pro sweeps at Wednesday's pro-am with a 6-under 66. Salt Lake's Brandon Hatfield won the pro sweeps at Tues-day's pro-am with a 67 . . . The winner of the $150,000 tournament gets $27,000.