PROVO — Not since Colombian Manuel Merizalde won the Mountain West Conference golf championship in 2001 has BYU had a freshman win an individual conference title. Then came Saturday.
Peter and Cindy Kuest walked all 54 holes in three days following their son, BYU freshman Peter, during the West Coast Conference championships at Riverside Country Club.
They stayed out of his way, watched from afar, kept out of his line of sight, found a tree or a nook or a cranny where they could quietly watch their son. For the father, for the entire family, it was a somber week. He’d lost his mother, Hilma, 81, the previous Saturday and on this Saturday the Cougar freshman wrote “Oma” on his golf glove, the German word for grandma.
Peter Kuest had dedicated his play to his departed matriarch.
Peter’s two opening rounds of 70-67 put him in a tie for medalist honors heading into Saturday's final round. Starting on the back nine, however, he found disaster on the par-4 12th when he made double bogey. He birdied the next hole, then bogeyed the 14th and stood 2-over on a day he had to play his best.
Then something happened.
Kuest, who’d entered the tournament with a 73.43 stroke average in almost a dozen events in his rookie year, caught fire.
It was inspiring. It was the best finishing 13 holes of his college career.
“He got it back to even on the second nine, you could see it in his eyes,” said his father. “He had that determination and that competitive strut going. He just had ice in his veins, a lot of confidence in his game.”
Kuest made birdie on the par-5 15th, added another birdie on No. 16 to get his round back to even par. He then birdied 1, 2, 5 and 6. His tee shot on the par-5 No. 7 found a fairway bunker and he had to shorten his approach, which cost him another birdie try. He finished with a pair of pars for a 4-under 68 and tie for individual honors.
On the playoff hole, No. 18, he hit a perfect tee shot, a long, sprinker-line laser 350-yard bomb. That left him a 66-yard 60-degree wedge to the hole, which he landed 18 feet from the pin.
For his playoff opponent, Santa Clara’s Hayden Shieh’s tee shot missed the fairway. He then missed the green and chipped too long. Kuest easily two-putted and with his teammates and gallery cheering him on, picked up his ball, tipped his hat and walked off the green as WCC medalist.
“It was exciting for us and for his grandmother," said the proud father. "He did well for her. He dedicated it to her. She was in poor health and passed away a week from today, and we are flying home Sunday with Peter to be at her funeral Monday.”
Peter Kuest had a sterling junior and high school career at Fresno’s Clovis West High. With the help of BYU alum and PGA Hall of Famer Johnny Miller, Kuest signed with BYU and moved to Provo. His father played soccer at Fresno State.
“Johnny was a big part of Peter coming here. We have no regrets,” said the father.
Since last fall, beginning with his first collegiate event, the USF Olympic Intercollegiate at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Kuest played in 11 tournaments and 33 rounds, with only eight of them under par before the WCC championships last week.
Kuest’s best finish was a tie for 12th at the Redhawk Invitational in Washington the first week of April when he fired rounds of 74-74-68—216.
In the April 10-11 Ping Cougar Classic at Riverside, he finished tied for 23rd, fourth out of five Cougars with rounds of 72-76-72.
In the WCC championship, Kuest’s effort showed he played at a completely different level. He was focused, driven, propelled. His rounds of 70-67-68 for a 11-under 54-hole 205 was nearly half his team’s 24-under-par total.
It was the best under-par performance on the team this calendar year. The previous best was a 10-under by defending Utah State Amateur champion Patrick Fishburn on Oct. 11 in Fairfax, California, when he tied for sixth at the Alister Mackenzie Invitational. It was better than fellow freshman Rhett Rasmussen’s 4-under 206 when he won medalist honors at the Stanford Invitational April. 1.
BYU’s golf coach Bruce Brockbank told reporters afterward that Kuest’s work ethic helped change the culture on his team.
“Not only did he play great but he carried his team on his back," said Brockbank. "The last two rounds were awesome for him.”
“For him to birdie 1 and 2 then 5 and 6, as firm as the golf course was, well, it was tremendous, especially after he struggled and was 3-over-par. It showed a lot of character.”
There’s also this: The WCC medalist run was his first 54-hole college tournament in which he scored below par every day. There is a power in motivation.
Said Brockbank, “He is the epitome of a college golfer. He works so hard, you never have to worry what he’s doing. He wants to play at the highest level, and what you do is get out of his way.”
Kuest was a little in shock afterward. It not only was his first collegiate title, but it came when his team needed a guy to deliver a big three-round run at the top and gobble up strokes to keep pace with traditional WCC favorite Pepperdine.
“This feels awesome. I can’t really describe it. It feels sweet. I was playing for something other than myself this week. It is unbelievable. I’m kind of star struck right now. Hopefully it isn’t the last time.”
Kuest said he plans to take things one tournament at a time.
As for this last event, there is no doubt something stirred inside him. If you look at his freshman year, the dozen events he’d played in, nothing compares to the consistency of his effort for these 54 holes.
Monday was a day for someone else, his Oma.
Golf took a backseat.