To actually have it happen feels amazing, especially to be on the trophy with all those guys who have won it before me. —Patrick Fishburn
HIGHLAND — Ever since he saw his good buddy from Ogden, Zac Blair, win the tournament seven years ago, Patrick Fishburn has dreamed of winning the Utah Men’s State Amateur.
That dream became reality Saturday at Alpine Country Club where Fishburn defeated Draper’s Aaron Smith 4 and 2 in a scheduled 36-hole match to capture Utah’s most prestigious amateur golf event.
“It’s something I’ve thought about for a long, long time, ever since I was a kid,” said the 23-year-old who will be a junior at BYU this fall. “I remember coming out and watching Zac win it at Valley View and I thought that was really cool and I wanted to be able to do it someday. To actually have it happen feels amazing, especially to be on the trophy with all those guys who have won it before me.”
Fishburn’s victory Saturday capped off a week that saw him tie for second in medal play and then blitz six opponents with no match getting to the 18th green.
In the final, the long-hitting, 6-foot-4, 220-pounder not only relied on his massive drives that were often 75 yards past his opponent, but he put on a putting display in his afternoon match after he switched back to a cross-handed style that he’d utilized earlier in the year.
Fishburn made seven birdies without a bogey in the afternoon 18 in what was one of the better-played finals in State Am history. “I think I was seven-under and I barely beat him,” said Fishburn.
The 40-year-old Smith had come back from a scary situation less than 24 hours earlier when he collapsed during his semifinal match with Weber State golfer Kyler Dearden because of heat exhaustion.
After playing seven holes early Saturday morning to defeat Dearden, Smith kept up with Fishburn, coming back from an early four-hole deficit to tie the match at the halfway point and then nearly making a comeback on the back nine of the afternoon 18.
“He’s definitely a feisty competitor,” said Fishburn. “There was no let-up.”
“I just grinded it out,” said Smith. “You never give up.”
It came to an end at the 16th hole when both players hit terrific shots on the 233-yard par-3 with Smith going 15 feet past and Fishburn nearly making a hole-in-one as his ball came to rest four feet behind the hole. After Smith couldn’t sink his short chip shot, he conceded the hole and the match to Fishburn.
The final match began differently that any match in the 118-year history of the State Am because of Smith’s health problems the afternoon before. He had to be taken by ambulance to a local hospital when he went down to the ground with extreme back pain and appeared to be hyperventilating.
“I’d never experienced that before — it just was a bad situation,” said Smith, who also had numbness in his extremities. “I was kind of out of it. But when you’re in the middle of a match, you just press forward. It was a learning experience.”
After going to the rule book and even checking in with the United States Golf Association back East, Utah Golf Association officials told Smith he could finish his match with Dearden, who had graciously agreed to keep playing, as long as it didn’t delay the competition.
The start of the finals was set back slightly with plenty of time to finish Saturday afternoon, and Smith agreed to keep playing his match in which he was 1 up.
“Honestly I had to take a second to think about it,” said Smith. “Did I want to? Of course I did but the doctors were saying, ‘listen to your body again.’ After I started feeling better, I said, ‘I’ve got enough in me to give it a shot.’’’
The finals match appeared to get out of hand early when Fishburn took a quick 4 up lead after five holes, but Smith didn’t panic. “It’s easy to get down when he’s birdieing every hole. I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” he said.
Smith hung in there and cut the lead to two and then birdied 17 and 18 to even the match heading into the hour-long lunch break.
In the afternoon, the match turned for good at the par-3 No. 4 hole (22nd hole of the match) when it looked like Smith might go ahead for the first time.
He was already in for par after two-putting from 40 feet. Fishburn faced a delicate chip shot from about 15 feet with little green to work with.
“That was extremely importantly,” said Fishburn. “I had a pretty bad lie and he was already in with a three. I was short-sided, but the whole time I thought I was going to make it. So to have it actually go in felt good.”
From there, Fishburn birdied the next two holes, from 18 inches and three feet to go 3 up. He made another short birdie putt at No. 8 to go 4 up and went 5 up when he rolled in an 18-footer at No. 13.
Now the match was “dormie” — 5 up with five holes left — but the scrappy Smith birdied the next two holes to keep the match going.
At this point, Fishburn decided enough was enough and hit perhaps his best shot of the week with his 6-iron that nearly went in the hole at No. 16.
So what’s next for Fishburn now that he’s captured the biggest amateur event in Utah?
“Well, I have the El Monte Four-Ball in Ogden, one of the bigger events in Utah,” Fishburn said with a smile. After that he’ll try to qualify for the U.S. Amateur next week, then get ready for his junior season at BYU.