FARMINGTON — After hitting a drive out of bounds and then topping a 3-wood on consecutive holes, it looked like the wheels might finally be coming off for young Preston Summerhays, who had played so magnificently in the Utah State Amateur for six straight days.
Which wouldn’t be too surprising, considering that Summerhays is just 15 years old, will be a sophomore in high school next year and still wears braces on his teeth. The young man, who lives in Arizona during the year and comes up to Utah each summer to spend time with the Summerhays clan, had seen his 3-up lead shrink to one against University of Utah golfer Kyler Dunkle with seven holes to play.
Then young Summerhays showed his mettle. He hit a marvelous shot to within 10 feet to win the 13th hole and sank a clutch birdie putt at 14 to push the lead back to three. Then, facing a 10-foot downhill putt at No. 16, he calmly rolled in the putt for birdie, exulting with a fist-pump, to win the match over the 21-year-old Dunkle.
With the 3 and 2 victory at Oakridge Country Club, Summerhays became the youngest winner in the 120-year history of the State Am, besting a pair of 16-year-old winners — George Von Elm, who won in 1917, and his uncle, Daniel Summerhays, who prevailed in 2000.
“It feels amazing — I’ve wanted to win this tournament for a while,” said Summerhays, sounding more like a 45-year-old who’s been trying to win the tournament for decades. Summerhays grinned and said “a while” meant since he first played in the State Am two years ago at age 13.
By winning at Oakridge, Summerhays kept up a family tradition that includes Uncle Danny’s State Am win here 18 years ago and his grandfather’s brother Bruce winning the State Am in 1966 and the Utah Open in 2008 at age 64.
Although he acknowledged, “I can’t lie, I was pretty nervous,” Summerhays kept his composure all day against the more experienced Dunkle, who drove the ball tremendously, but struggled making putts.
“It was a really tough day for me on the greens,” said Dunkle, a native of Colorado. “I don’t know if I can count on both hands how many times I lipped out putts today. That’s tough when you have an opponent who’s making putts from everywhere. He made all the putts he should have made and made some pretty long ones. Preston might be one of the best young putters I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Summerhays took control of the scheduled 36-hole match early after winning the fourth hole and extending the lead to three after the first 10 holes. Dunkle cut the lead to one after 16, but Summerhays took a 2-up lead into the lunch break.
In the afternoon round, Dunkle birdied No. 4 to cut the lead again, only to lose the next hole with a bogey. The two players halved the next four holes, and Summerhays went into the final nine up two.
The tees at the par-4 10th were way up, giving the players a chance to drive the green, which Dunkle did, while Summerhays flew his drive over the road out of bounds, handing Dunkle the hole. Then came the par-5 11th when Summerhays’s second shot looked like a Saturday afternoon hacker’s when it rolled along the ground a little over 100 yards.
Summerhays said his out-of-bounds tee shot at 10 wasn’t nerves, but that the topped 3-wood “shook me a little bit.” However, he recovered to make par and halved the hole when Dunkle couldn’t take advantage and missed a 12-footer.
Afterwards, Summerhays’s father, Boyd, who flew in Friday night from the U.S. Open, where he was coaching Tony Finau, said he was most proud of the way his son reacted after the adversity.
Boyd just happened to be celebrating his 39th birthday Saturday and couldn’t have asked for a better present than watching his oldest son win a tournament he never did. He told Preston to “have fun” and that win or lose he was proud of him (Boyd took a red-eye Saturday back to New York to be with Finau, after he climbed into a share of the lead).
Earlier in the week, Boyd had kept up with his son’s play through live phone feeds, just like Preston’s grandparents did throughout Saturday’s round. Lynn and Ann Summerhays are on the other side of the world in New Zealand doing service for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and were noticeably absent among the throngs of Summerhays family members roaming the fairways of Oakridge.2 comments on this story
A week earlier, Summerhays had lost in the finals of the Utah State Junior Amateur at Oakridge to Cole Ponich on the first hole of sudden-death playoff, but the State Am was a much bigger deal. Winning the State Amateur topped his previous biggest achievement in golf, a third-place finish at the Junior World tournament in San Diego last summer.
Summerhays began the week by finishing in a tie for 21st place in the medal portion of the tournament with rounds of 71 and 70. He won his opening match against Dane Nelson 6 and 5 and defeated Jacob Wagstaff 3 and 1 in the second round. Then he beat his second cousin Tyler Savage 6 and 4 in the round of 16 and beat Utah State golfer Andy Hess 3 and 1 in the quarterfinals. He earned a spot in the finals by beating Dixie State golfer Jayce Frampton 1 up in Friday afternoon’s semfinals.