OGDEN — Preston Richards is 24 years old and, although he's never won the Utah State Amateur men's golf championship, he has all the confidence in the world that now's definitely the right time for that to happen.
Jon Wright, meanwhile, already owns one State Amateur title and would like nothing better than to win another one before he turns 44 years old next month.
Now, nearly 20 years apart in age with a giant-sized gap in both their golf and life experiences — one of them a wily veteran who was a professional golfer for 10 years and has shown he knows how to win under intense pressure, while the other's a very capable young man oozing with ability and self-confidence — yes, something's got to give between them.
And it will Saturday when they square off for the coveted crown in the 116th annual Utah State Amateur tournament finale at the Ogden Golf and Country Club.
"It's awesome," Richards said after advancing the State Am title match for the first time in his relatively young golf life. "It's been a long week and I've really put it together, finally put everything together.
"I know I hit the ball as good or better than anybody out here the past seven years; it's just my putting that's finally clicked this week, and that's made all the difference.
"It's hard for me to describe it. I haven't been here before. But I've qualified for the State Am every year I've tried, made it to match play just once — last year — and got past the first round before Jon Wright got me in the second round. So it'll be a little payback (Saturday). I think I'll take this one," he said.
Saturday's 36-hole tourney title match tees off at 7:30 a.m. at the OGCC layout, where Wright and Richards each won a pair of match-play matchups on Friday to reach the State Am final.
Richards, who sent Kurt Owen packing with a 4-and-3 victory in Friday morning's quarterfinals, moved into Saturday's finale by beating 17-year-old Kai Ruiz, 2-up, in their semifinal match Friday afternoon.
"I'm feeling good for (Saturday). It'll be a long day, but I'm used to 36 holes from college golf, so I'm ready for it," said Richards, a senior-to-be at Utah Valley University.
He had a large group of family and friends following him around the Ogden Country Club course, cheering him on and offering words of encouragement, and he would like nothing better than to reward their support with a victory.
"I love 'em all so much and it's nice of them to drive up here, more than an hour for all of 'em," Richards said. "My wife's been there with me, too, which is always the most important thing, so I'm gonna win it (Saturday) for all of them, really."
Of course, standing in his way is the imposing presence of Wright, who won the 2012 State Amateur title on his home course, the Salt Lake Country Club, and would like nothing better than to add another much-coveted prize to his trophy case — but insists that's not necessary to validate his victory from two years ago.
"I don't really take too much stock in what people say," said Wright, a commercial real estate agent who lives in Sandy. "So if people want to diminish my win because it was on my home course, then that's fine. It doesn't bother me.
"I love that win and it's the biggest win of my life and it's awesome, and I have a nice trophy in my house. So if that's the talk then fine.
"But I don't care about putting that to rest, it doesn't matter," he said. "I just want to win another one. It's fun. And I'm getting older and as I get older I realize that the window is getting shorter to where you can still hit it up with these college kids and still walk 36 holes and still keep your nerves, because it gets a little hairy out there."
Both of Friday's semifinal matches turned on the 14th hole, where Wright and Richards, who were trailing at the time, won that hole to square their respective matches, then each went ahead in their matches by winning No. 15 as well.
Wright then went up by two holes by winning No. 16, too, before Higham won No. 17 to send their match to No. 18, where Wright stuck his tee shot about 5 feet from the cup and knocked in his birdie putt to clinch it.
"Overall, I really started to hit it well maybe the last five holes," Wright said. "And that's kinda been the pattern for this week. Whatever I've done prior, when we get to about (No.) 12, I tend to just calm down and hit a lot of good shots and some good putts, too. So that really helps.
"It's crazy 'cause I started the week just hitting it poorly, really poorly. I'd been out on vacation with the entire extended family — we were celebrating my mother's birthday early at my brother's ranch in Santa Barbara (California) — and I was freaking out. We were gone from (last) Tuesday to Sunday and we were surfing. Not really — I caught maybe two waves — so we got back Sunday afternoon and I hit a few balls but I was so sore from surfing I didn't want to be even sorer.
"I just kinda slapped it around (in medal play) on Monday and Tuesday just to get into match play, and I feel like I'm hitting it better each day, kinda playing my way into good form," he said. "So it's working."
Wright knocked off defending State Am champ Cole Ogden, 3-and-2, in his quarterfinal match Friday morning before turning back Higham, a BYU junior-to-be, as the weather went from cool and rainy to warm and muggy on Friday afternoon.
Asked if he thought at the beginning of the week that he might be playing for the championship on Saturday, Wright maintained a one-day-at-a-time approach.
"I never think that far ahead," he said. "I never look at the brackets. I have no idea who I'm playing next. People tell me and I'm like, 'OK.' And that worked for me a couple years ago.
"So I felt like I could get into match play just by keeping it in play at Valley View and here and just getting up and down when you had to. I think I made two birdies each day, I mean I was awful, but it was good enough.
"So I felt kinda the same way I did a couple years ago where I feel like I'm tough to beat in match play, so all you do is just get into match play and then see what happens," Wright said. "I've been fortunate — I've been behind, I've been ahead — and it just works out.
"No one understands how hard it is to win one of these."
Well, one thing is certain. Wright, the calm and experienced former pro, or Richards, the hungry young lion, will definitely find out how hard it is Saturday.
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