When I came to BYU, I was pretty lost. (Zac Blair) was one of the guys who helped me out at a time I was a pretty stubborn freshman, which I regret. But to have such a great player take me under his wing and help me understand how important it was to improve, practice and get school work done was very important to me being able to do the things I have done so far. —Justin Keiley, BYU golfer
PROVO — How does a sun raisin from Hawaii wind up golfing for a Mormon school in Utah?
That’s the saga of BYU junior Justin Keiley, one of several members of the BYU golf team that has posted collegiate victories this season.
The Cougars head to Pullman, Wash., this coming week where they’ll compete in the Pullman Regional of the 2013 NCAA Men’s Golf Championship. The competition will be at the Palouse Ridge Golf Club.
There was a time Keiley may have felt like he’d parachuted onto another planet to play golf. But with kind help from friends, he’s turned into a key weapon for the Cougars, respected and loved.
Keiley won the Triumph at Pauma Valley back in March. It was his first tournament victory of his college career, which has spanned 20 tournaments. He joins senior Zac Blair (two wins), and Devon Purser (one) with medalist honors this season, and it’s been a long time since the BYU program has had that many individual winners in the college circuit.
The Cougars are seeded No. 6 behind No. 1 Cal with WCC companion St. Mary’s seeded No. 4.
Keiley had no idea he’d leave the friendly shores of Hawaii and end up in Provo with its snow-capped mountains and limited playing calendar when he was at Baldwin High near his home of Haiku, Hawaii. He was not LDS, had no real connection to Mormons, and had not visited the campus.
One day, playing in a junior tournament during high school, BYU director of golf Scott Miller saw him playing in competition and got word to his father to find out if Justin would be interested in playing at BYU.
“At the time, I was considering going to the University of Idaho,” Keiley said. The idea of BYU was a new one, but he wasn’t scared away by the idea of playing for a church school with a conservative environment.
“I never was a party guy and my parents brought me up with many of the same ideals that are taught by the LDS Church. It wasn’t a stretch for me to see myself fitting in, so I looked into it further.”
After three years, Keiley has made his impact in the BYU program.
At first, like most freshmen, he struggled with the routine of college life, academics and living on his own. But he credits Blair for helping him cope and maneuver through hurdles of what it takes to play college golf.
“He’s had the greatest influence on me of anybody,” Keiley said.
“When I came to BYU, I was pretty lost," Keiley said. "He was one of the guys who helped me out at a time I was a pretty stubborn freshman, which I regret. But to have such a great player take me under his wing and help me understand how important it was to improve, practice and get school work done was very important to me being able to do the things I have done so far.
“He’s a guy I look up to. I want to be at his level when I’m a senior. He’s had a huge impact on my game over the years and he’s helped me out.”
Blair showed Keiley “the ropes” on how to get schoolwork done while golfing. “His dad (Jimmy Blair) has also been very helpful to me in giving me advice and pointers to help my game.”
Keiley said in the Triumph victory, the key to his win was a double-bogey he made early in the tournament. It was like a wake-up call. It shook him up and got him thinking how much he wanted to win. He buckled down and focused as hard as he ever had, and his game followed.
That tournament, Keiley fired rounds of 72, 68 and 72 to finish 1 under par and claim medalist honors. On the season he’s played in 12 events and completed 35 rounds. He has a 72.63 stroke average with a season-best round of 66. He has had eight top-20 finishes in those dozen tournaments.
With freshman returning missionary Joe Parkinson regaining his Utah State Amateur championship form, Blair leading the way, and Purser and Jordan Hammer filling in nicely, Keiley’s consistency will prove key in Cougars' hopes in the NCAA postseason.
“He’s a good player and he’s been working hard at it,” Blair said.
“He’s very powerful and he’s a good putter. He’s finally playing smarter and hitting it a lot straighter and he’s good to go.”
Head coach Bruce Brockbank could certainly use a little good to go this coming week.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.