PROVO — Zac Blair is just one of those champions that makes you smile.
After sinking a short par putt on No. 18 at Riverside Country Club to win medalist honors in the Ping Cougar Classic, he took a few steps off the green and then fell to his knees.
No, it wasn’t a Tim Tebow moment.
Blair had pulled something out of his golf bag and out flipped a prized possession, a multicolored quarter that he liked as a ball mark. So down on all fours went the Cougar senior, moving grass out of the way. Folks nearby, including Hall of Famer Johnny Miller, wondered what in the world had just happened. Had he lost a contact lens or something?
“It was just a quarter, nothing special,” he told reporters after the trophy ceremonies.
BYU's Blair put on a show Saturday, digging in when it counted. This was his final Cougar Classic, the final competitive collegiate round of his career on his home course. He’d started the day ahead of the field at 10-under par after two rounds but found himself languishing around the course in the first nine holes Saturday morning.
Blair put his approach shot in the lake on the par-5 No. 7 but scrambled for par. His teammate, sensational freshman Joe Parkinson, fired a 4-under-par 32 on the front nine just ahead of him in the next group, and Parkinson overtook Blair, the team captain, at the break. Parkinson had a real shot at his first collegiate victory, if he could just hang on.
Parkinson did fine, finishing with a 4-under 68 on Saturday, but it was Blair who found himself at crunch time. And like a veteran champion, he punched his ticket to victory. Blair made five birdies on the day, chewing up the back nine coming home.
Blair missed the green on the par-5 No. 15 and had a tricky chip with his ball resting in the tall second-cut fringe. He chipped to a couple of feet and made birdie. On No. 16, his drive went around the fairway bunker, but he saved par with a great approach.
On the par-3 17th, Blair almost had a hole-in-one. He launched his approach shot behind the hole and it rolled back to leave him about a foot for birdie. Crunch time.
On the final hole, Air Force’s Kyle Westmoreland needed a birdie to tie Blair for medalist honors, if Blair made a par. Westmoreland watched as Blair’s tee shot landed in the left fairway bunker about 135 feet from the green. The AFA star then hit a mammoth drive down the middle of the fairway that left him a lob wedge into the uphill green.
Watching from behind the green, you could see Blair step into the bunker and only his hat was in sight. He took out a pitching wedge and his approach landed on the left fringe almost, pin high. Westmoreland’s short wedge landed short and he had to chip and made par. All Blair had to do was two putt. He lipped out the birdie putt and had a tap-in for his second Cougar Classic individual medal.
He had defeated Westmoreland and Parkinson by one shot — that near ace on No. 17. His three rounds were 66-68-68 for 202.
Then came the quarter hunt.
“Zac Blair? You can’t say enough about that guy. He has played so well this semester,” said BYU golf coach Bruce Brockbank Jr.
“In seven tournaments this year he’s had two wins, a second, a third, a fourth and maybe a seventh. That is big-time stuff. He just seems to hit great shots when he needs to and when he misses, he gets up and down. I don’t know if anyone has a good a record as he does in the state of Utah. I don’t think any amateur has had as good a record as Zac has in this state. If there is somebody, I’d be hard pressed to name him.”
Blair and Parkinson led the Cougars to an impressive 32-under-par victory, which Brockbank says compares among the best performances any BYU team has had at Riverside. “On this course, as hard as the greens were today, that was a fantastic effort.”
Brockbank rode Blair for the final time Saturday.
And the kid came through.
Son of former Cougar All-American Jimmy Blair, Zac has been on his share of winning teams in the Cougar Classic. Zac is currently the UGA’s three-time player of the year. His father was not on hand to see his son finish Saturday, however. “He’s in Parker, Ariz., playing in a tournament today,” said the son.
The Blair era has come and gone fast for Brockbank and director of golf Scott Miller. And he’s been everything they expected.
“It’s amazing," said Brockbank. "You look at that kid. You see him mature, put on some weight and play, and its been like the blink of an eye and the kid's here and gone again. It’s been an absolute privilege. He’s a knock off the old block as far as his dad.”
Somebody check Riverside.
Blair might be out there this morning looking for that quarter.
He never had to find a golf swing.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].