For me, BYU gives me a proven track record of getting players on the PGA Tour. —Cole Ponich
PROVO — Don’t bet against him. He’s in the 59 Club.
Davis High junior Cole Ponich is on track to become the next Zac Blair, a storied Utah amateur now cashing PGA Tour checks. Ponich has the touch, hands, attitude, drive, demeanor and skills to get it done. In the realm he competes in as a junior golfer, there are few better in the land.
Ponich, recently de-committed from UCLA and pledged to sign this fall to play collegiate golf at BYU as a Class of 2019 recruit. Blair was the Utah Golf Association four-time player of the year, and Ponich was just named the Johnny Miller Division UGA Player of the Year.
“My freshman year I was looking at UCLA, USC and Georgia Tech and committed to UCLA. But afterward, as I began to look at things and mature, I began to see things differently and decided to go to BYU,” said Ponich this past week at the St. George Amateur at the St. George Golf Club.
It came down to playing close to home, having close friends on BYU’s current and future teams, and a national trajectory of BYU’s program under coach Bruce Brockbank. He also had long talks with former Cougar and current PGA Tour veterans Blair and Daniel Summerhays, among others.
“For me, BYU gives me a proven track record of getting players on the PGA Tour. When Bruce Brockbank has had national talent, the chances were high he could put players on the Tour," he said. "It’s a program that has done that with players like Zac, Daniel Summerhays and Mike Weir. I like who I’ll be playing with in the future on this team. I’ll feel more comfortable with them than some I might play with away from home at UCLA.”
Ponich will play in the AJGA Invitational at the Fazio-designed Carlton Woods Course in Woodlands, Texas, Feb. 16-19.
Ponich is 5-foot-10 and 125 pounds. He’s played golf since he was 2 and carries a plus-6.2 handicap. That means if you are a scratch golfer, he’s got to give you seven strokes on the first tee.
His 18-hole average is 67 and his tournament average score is 68. His average drive is 295 yards. As a freshman, he shot a course-record 59 at Lakeside in Layton. It's a round about which folks still marvel. In that round, Ponich posted 12 birdies.
Locals say Ponich is a great putter and chipper and his chemistry with others is as valuable as his decision-making around the course. He chose BYU within hours of taking a visit to Arizona State this past fall.
“I played with Cole several times this summer,” said Blair. “He’s a good player. He does everything well. He knows how to go low and win and that’s something you can’t teach, you either have it or you don’t. I think he sees BYU is on the up and has a good core of players. When you get a guy like Cole, it brings attention and hopefully they’ll get more just like him.”
Jeff Thurman, the executive director of the Utah Junior Golf Association, has seen Ponich play most of his life.
“Cole played in only two American Junior Golf Association events last year and was recognized as a 2017 Rolex Junior All-American second-team member,” said Thurman. “His future playing in national amateur events is bright. I look for even greater things in 2018 as many doors have been opened to him based on his play last year. Cole is the cream that has risen to the top of Utah junior golf.”
Fairways Magazine publisher Randy Dodson says Ponich has received exemptions to play in the Western Junior and Southwestern Amateur.
“We have been following Cole since he first started playing in Utah Junior Golf Association events as a 5-year-old,” said Dodson. “Back then the only division available to him was the 10-year old and under and he was already at the top of many leaderboards. I know he's playing a lot of national events but I hope at some point he competes in the Utah State Amateur. He's fearless, will tee it up with anyone. He reminds me of Zac Blair at that same age.”
Ponich was born in San Diego and played a par-3 course when just 3. He chipped in on his first hole for a birdie.
His father Tom (his coach) and mother Becky (manager) have been the driving force in support of his play. He has never had lessons from a professional but has attended clinics and camps put on by pros. He practices incessantly on his short game, chipping, lob wedges and putting. His father is a former USU quarterback in the 1980s and was involved in the Ledges Golf Club in St. George more than a decade ago.
The Blair comparison is something Ponich has heard before.
“I’ve played with Zac and it’s true. We hit it a similar distance,” said Ponich. “We make a living off our wedges and putting. I thank Zac a lot for my college decision because I’ve talked to him a lot about it over time and throughout he gave me great advice.”
Ponich said if he plays courses where his 9-iron and wedges regularly come into play, his level of confidence soars and he can really score.
“I just got a new putter I have to get used to it,” he said after his rounds in St. George. “I could have putted better.”
The putter is a Scotty Cameron Circle T and Ponich bought it after meeting Cameron personally.
How many golfers can say they buddied up to one of the world's greatest designers of putting equipment and say they need to get used to it?
Well, Ponich did.