The Utah Men's State Amateur, the world's longest continuing golf tournament going on now for 110 years, is an event loaded with history and tradition.
It's time for one of those traditions to change.
In case you don't know, the tournament includes regional qualifying at sites around the state that determines the players who advance to 36 holes of further qualifying at a final site which was Soldier Hollow this year. After two days of medal play at the final site, the low 31 advance along with the defending champion to five rounds of eliminating match play.
Years ago, when a 1-handicapper was a rare find, it was easy to pick which golfers were capable of winning the title. Golfers with a 3, 4 or 5 handicap were even included in that category.
Not anymore. There are more great golfers in Utah than ever before. Twenty or even 10 years ago there wasn't a handful of scratch players or plus-handicappers. At this year's State Am, there were more than 100 with a scratch handicap or better.
With numbers like that, it's time to take it up a notch by including more top-notch players in match play. Every golfer who reached match play this year said every other golfer in match play was good enough to win the title. In fact, they all said a lot of those who didn't get to match play were good enough to win the title.
Yes, they had an equal chance to get there just by shooting one of the low 31 scores. But the line is so fine right now that the line needs to be moved. Did you look at the list of those who missed by just one shot? Greg Buckway, a former Utah Open Champion, out by one. Former champs Doug Bybee and Gregg Oliphant, evidently not good enough for match play this year but only by a shot. Kirk Siddens, a player many consider Utah's best, could have used one more one-putt. Robert McRae, a player that no one would want to face in match play, didn't get to face anyone.
The list of those who missed match play by one, two or three shots, who would have made a 64-player field, would have any college coach drooling. In fact, several are already college golf stars and clearly good enough to win a state amateur title.
Utah Golf Association officials have balked at expanding match play to 64 players based on the time and space it would require for the host golf course. Also, they haven't wanted to dilute match play with players who really are not good enough to survive.
Based on handicap alone, a field of 64 today would be stronger than the fields of 32 two decades ago. Let's find the time and space to make it work. Add a day if necessary.Simply put, if we want the Utah State Am champion to be the best of the best, let's just make sure that all of the best are there for him to beat. Hopefully, it will be that way when the State Am returns to Soldier Hollow in 2010, if not sooner.