SALT LAKE CITY — Bruce Summerhays, the man who won $9 million playing golf on the Champions Tour, is often asked by parents what’s the best way for their kids to learn the game — and he always has the same answer.
Copy, copy, copy.
“You can teach them the basics,” he says, “but the best thing is to have them watch good players. Kids are great imitators. They’ll do what they see.”
As an example of that, he points to his own boyhood. When he was growing up, his father, Pres, was a coach at the University of Utah. Bruce and his brothers Gary and Lynn were raised on the school’s playing fields and locker rooms, watching and learning from many of the top athletes in the state.
“I’m not sure Dad ever really coached us,” says Bruce. “What he did was allow us to be there and see the best players do their thing. When we got on teams, we knew what to do.”
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Bruce Summerhays and Pres Summerhays are two names that are trending big this week. Tuesday night at the Utah Sports Hall of Fame’s annual banquet at EnergySolutions Arena, Bruce will be inducted into the same elite fraternity that his father was ushered into 36 years ago.
It will be the first father-son team in the Hall of Fame’s 44-year history.
“What a privilege to follow Dad in there,” says Bruce. “I know this wouldn’t be happening if it wasn’t for him.”
Pres (short for Preston) Summerhays, who died in 1996 at the age of 90, joined the Hall of Fame in 1978 shortly after he’d finally hung up his coaching whistle. By then it was worn out. He’d coached for 42 years, starting in high school (St. Anthony, Idaho, and Carbon High School in Price, Utah) and then moving on to the University of Utah, where for years he was the head baseball coach, head skiing coach and assistant football coach. One year he also helped coach the golf team.
“He was busy,” says Bruce.
Bruce and his brothers were fixtures on the Ute campus because Pres Summerhays took his boys to work with him.
“We had the run of the place,” remembers Bruce. “Shooting hoops in the arena, hanging out in the locker room, throwing passes in the stadium. He took us skiing, we were batboys on the baseball team. Whatever the season was, that’s what we did.”
Bruce, Gary and Lynn all wound up playing golf for the Utes. Bruce, at 5-foot-9, also played on the freshman basketball team, “until I saw the handwriting on the wall and decided I’d be better off concentrating on golf.”
He had a brief fling with the PGA Tour — he turned professional in 1966 and finished third in the 1974 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am (now the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am) — but with a wife and young family to support he opted for the steadier income of a golf coach (at Stanford University) and later of a club professional (he was the longtime pro at Wasatch State Park and later the Homestead in Midway).
Still, he always wondered if he could have made a living playing golf against the best in the world, and when he turned 50, after he and Carolyn had mostly raised their eight children, he decided to find out. In 1994 he qualified for what was then the Senior Tour and is now the Champions Tour and played his first full season in 1995. By the end of that year, after competing weekly against golfers who had spent decades playing regularly on the PGA Tour, he had nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in the bank and had established himself among the elite players on the Champions Tour.
From 1994 through 2010 he played in 452 tournaments, won three of them, finished in the top ten 92 times, and with over $9 million in earnings wound up No. 24 on the Champions Tour’s all time money-winning list.
In the middle of the 2010 season, he and Carolyn took a three-year sabbatical and moved to Tampa, Florida, where Bruce served as president of the Florida Tampa Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
They returned to Utah a year ago, just in time to get the call from the Hall.
Bruce will be joined in Tuesday night’s ceremonies by fellow Class of ’14 inductees Luther Ellis, the University of Utah football lineman who went on to star in the NFL; Logan Tom, who twice won Olympic silver medals playing for the U.S. women’s national volleyball team; and Noelle Pikus-Pace, skeleton silver medalist in the most recent Olympic Winter Games in Russia.
And, in spirit, by his fellow Hall-of-Famer father, who always exposed him to the best.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org