It’s exciting, I didn’t know about it for a few days after. It feels good. I’m glad at least one of us girls can go out and play with the men. —Naomi Soifua, on qualifying for the 119th Utah State Amateur
PROVO — She simply pounds the brand off of a golf ball.
She has power, finesse and a thirsty work ethic and that’s why she can adequately stand on the tee box, playing from the tips, the furthest part of the golf course, and compete with men.
This is Naomi Soifua, who just graduated from Provo High and played her way into history this past week at East Bay Golf Course during qualifying for the oldest continuously contested tournament in the world, the 119th Utah State Amateur.
“It’s exciting, I didn’t know about it for a few days after,” said Soifua. “It feels good. I’m glad at least one of us girls can go out and play with the men.”
Actually, she joins Annie Thurman as the only women to ever qualify for the state am. This version of the event will be at the Ogden Country Club in mid-July.
Thurman, one of the best female players the state has ever produced, received a UGA sponsors' exemption into the event in 2004, then qualified outright the next year by tying for medalist honors at a qualifying event at Wasatch State Park. This is generally an all-male event. Women have their own state amateur tournament.
Soifua, 18, made Utah golf history when at 13 she became the youngest woman to advance to the finals of either the men's or women's Utah State Amateur when she lost to Weber State's Kelsey Chugg 3 and 2 at Logan Golf and Country Club in the Women's State Am five years ago.
Soifua stood near the chipping green at East Bay Golf Course this past week, her home course. She wore flip flops and was as relaxed and mellow as can be. It’s a familiar sight for locals, seeing this gentle, soft-spoken young woman at the driving range, putting green or chipping area for hours on end. She’s often there from morning to night, like it’s her job. In a way, it is.
Soifua fired a 1-over-par 73 Monday in conditions that featured 30 mph winds. She finished fourth, earning a qualifying slot for the state am. It was a day she got it down to 3-under on the back nine. It was a day the male-dominated field had only two competitors in a field of more than 70 shoot under par.
“It was a miserable, windy, rainy day,” said East Bay head pro Brett Watson. “She had just lost a chance to win her fourth-straight state title but she came out there without a care in the world and competed in some of the most challenging conditions you can imagine.”
Watson calls Soifua one of the best golfers in the state and an athlete who he expects will have a great career at BYU. “For her to become the first woman to qualify for the state am is a testament to how good she is.”
During her round, Soifua routinely outdrove her male counterparts. She is capable of hitting tee shots in the 300-yard range.
“The wind was really brutal," Soifua said. "In our group, each time one of us got up to the tee, there seemed to be a gust of wind and we had to take a step back because it was really strong.
“I was really happy with my round because even though it was so windy, I was able to keep a good score throughout the round.”
She made eagle on the par-5 No. 12 and birdied the next hole, another par-5, to get to 3 under par.
“I knew from past experiences you can’t outplay the wind," she said. "I tried to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I tried to aim for places where if I missed, they were good misses and I didn’t get myself in trouble.”
Soifua has played in the Provo Open four times, making the cut three times, so competing against her male counterparts is not a challenge that plays mind games with her. She just steps up and plays golf, one hole at a time, like it should be.
“I try not to define myself as a woman golfer, but a golfer,” she said.
Soifua has four tournaments she will play in before the state am, including next week’s Mary Lou Baker Open. A few of her BYU teammates will also be playing in that event.
Of the other events leading up to the state amateur, Soifua answered a query about their location and name with the same laid-back approach she takes with most things. She reminds you of PGA Tour professional Tony Finau because she is so low-key.
“I don’t know where the tournaments are or what they are. I just wake up and go where my dad takes me.”
This is a big deal for Soifua and an even bigger deal for the historic event in Utah, the crown jewel of the Utah Golf Association.
Utah has outstanding female golfers, both past and present, but this is a major accomplishment.
Soifua was able to do this because of her power, strength, and ability to neutralize a golf course when playing from the tips.
Go for it, Naomi. You’ve earned the right.