125. Utah State Amateur: Zac Jones survives early upset scare

After hitting his tee shot into the penalty area left of the fairway on the 18th hole at The Country Club of Salt Lake City on Wednesday in a tie, defending champion Zac Jones reckoned he needed a “miracle shot” to avoid a major upset and an early exit in the 125th Utah State Amateur.

Instead, the rising junior at BYU got what he acknowledged was a “lucky break” when Round of 64 opponent Tate McVay was awarded an unlucky shot that led to a double-bogey and what the Vernal resident (in the form of South Dakota) called “just a brutal finish.”

“It’s definitely a wake-up call. It can also be a momentum boost to feel some nerves and win a close game early, so now when I face it later in the week, it’ll be something I’ve already done in this week.” — BYU golfer and defending State Am champion Zac Jones.

So Jones, 22, who largely cruised to the title last year at Soldier Hollow with relatively easy victories in all six matches, advances to Thursday’s round of 32, but not without adding a few gray hairs to his father and caddy Clarks head.

“It’s definitely a wake-up call,” Zac Jones said. “It can also be a momentum boost to feel some nerves and win a close game early, so now when I face it later in the week, it will be something I’ve already done this week.”

McVay, 27, a medical salesman who played collegiately at West Texas A&M, appeared to have the advantage as both golfers hit their approaches about 40 feet fair and under the 18th green, with Jones sitting on 3 and McVay sitting on 2.

However, Jones got up and down for bogey, while McVay’s chip rolled into some rough above the hole and got stuck there, instead of rolling back closer to the hole as he had planned.

He had no chance to stop his fourth shot near the hole, then missed the 20-footer coming back and Jones won.

“It hung up there,” McVay said. “Sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re not. … When I saw him get hit in the hazard on the 18th, I licked my chops. But that’s golf. What are you doing?”

McVay took a 1-up lead after a birdie on 13, but Jones responded with birdies on 14 and 15 to go 1 up. McVay then eagled the par-5 17th hole (Jones birdied) to tie the match, and appeared to be in command when his tee shot on 18 was a little short but down the middle of the fairway.

“I had a 7-iron in my hand. There’s no reason to miss it by 40 yards straight, McVay said. “I just thought it was going to turn, but for some reason it flared to the right.”

Jones wasn’t ready to call the up-and-down one of the best sequences of his golf life, but he didn’t downplay the feat either.

“As far as difficulty and nerves, I mean, it’s as much nerves as you’re going to feel and as much pressure as you’re going to feel, so definitely one of my better shots.

“It was a tough up-and-down drive from the rough to a tucked pin on these greens, so definitely one of the best up-and-down drives I’ve had.”

It was a 1-2 day for the Jones family as brothers Cooper and Tyler lost close matches, with BYU-bound younger brother Cooper falling in 19 holes to Zach Felts and older brother Tyler losing to Elliot Bond.

Stroke-play medalist Peter Kim, a Skyline High product who has also signed to play for BYU, rolled past Eli Rogers, 6 and 5.

First-round leader and No. 2 seed Davis Johnson, a 20-year-old University of Utah golfer from Scottsdale, Arizona, lost 2 and 1 to seasoned amateur David Jennings in a close match.

“Eventually I was able to play a little more steady than him,” said Jennings, a 38-year-old air traffic controller who works the graveyard shift six days a week and plays golf afterward.

Jennings needed to survive an eight-way playoff for the final two game spots Wednesday morning.

He and the aforementioned Rogers advanced, while Peter Ouimette also aced the other playoff hole, the downhill par-3 10th hole, but made a double bogey on an errant tee shot and was eliminated.

“It was awful (being in the playoffs),” Jennings said. “Yeah, I didn’t feel too good about my game because I felt like I played as bad as I could have done and I was pretty upset that I was going to the playoffs.

“But I had a lot of people writing to me and being a lot more positive and saying, ‘Hey, you’re still in it’.”

Can one of the older remaining golfers in the field win it all?

“If I play my game, I have a shot,” Jennings said. “I just have to get out of my own way and then I think I’ll be hard to beat. When I feel like I’m on, I feel like I can beat anybody.”

One of the pre-tournament favorites, University of Utah golfer Braxton Watts, 21, continued his upward trend with a 3 and 1 victory over Will Blanchard.

A Farmington High product, Watts shot 80 in Monday’s first round of stroke play, then recovered nicely with an even-par 66 on Tuesday.

“I feel like I have a really good chance to win it just with the way the course lays out and how much we get to play it. That’s a big advantage,” Watts said.

“I think I just have to take advantage of it and play well. I think I have a really good chance to go far this week.”

The field will be cut from 32 to eight on Thursday, with the round of 32 games beginning at 7:30, and quarterfinal matches are scheduled for the afternoon.

Some interesting matchups to watch Thursday morning include Kim against current BYU player Keanu Akina; 2021 State Am champion Martin Leon (a former Utah golfer who is transferring to Rutgers) vs. Salt Lake City amateur champion Sean Lampropoulos; And Brigham Gibbs against 2008 champion Dan Horner, who needed 21 holes to dismiss Yinxuan Wu on Wednesday.

Wednesday’s round of 16 results

Upper bracket

Peter Kim def. Eli Rogers, 6 and 5

Keanu Akina def. Reed Nielsen, 2 and 1

David Liechty def. Charlie Taylor, 6 and 5

Caysen Wright def. Lance Smith, 1 up

Elijah Turner def. Jack Kuemmel, 2 up

Parker Bunn def. Aidan Thain, 3 and 2

Zach Felt’s def. Cooper Jones, 19 holes

Jesper von Reedtz def. Lincoln Markham, 4 and 2

Oscar Mayfield def. Noah Moody, 3 and 2

Rand Sargent def. Steven Croft, 2 and 1

Martin Leon def. Luke Crapo, 2 and 1

Sean Lampropoulos def. Michael Blackham, 1 op

Cameron Crawford def. Gavin Dosch, 4 and 3

Andrew Cottle def. Tyson Lund, 2 and 1

Tanner Telford def. Thomas Young, 4 and 3

Bowen Mauss def. Ryan Barber, 3 and 2

Lower bracket

David Jennings def. Davis Johnson, 2 and 1

Josh Howe def. Jordan Rodgers, 4 and 3

Brandon Robison def. Jake Griffin, 6 and 4

Justin Shluker def. John Cook, 4 and 3

Simon Kwon def. Ryan Bromley, 5 and 4

Devin Tovey def. Rashon Williams, 2 and 1

Braxton Watts def. Will Blanchard, 3rd and 1

Leo Torres def. Darrin Overson, 1 up

Zac Jones def. Tate McVay, 1 up

Kenny Palmer def. Tyler Demasi, 4 and 3

Elliot Bond def. Tyler Jones, 3 and 2

Brendan Thomas def. Brennan Coburn, 5 and 4

Ryker Dunkley def. Hayden Banz, 1 up

Peyton Hastings def. Jeremy Hymas, 3 and 1

Brigham Gibbs def. Steele DeWald, 19 holes

Dan Horner def. Yinxuan Wu, 21 holes

Thursday’s round of 16 matches

7:30 – Peter Kim vs. Keanu Akina

7:39 — David Liechty vs. Caysen Wright

7:48 — Elijah Turner vs. Parker Bunn

7:57 am — Zach Felts vs. Jesper von Reedtz

8:06 – Oscar Mayfield vs. Rand Sargent

8:15 – Martin Leon vs. Sean Lampropoulos

8:24 — Cameron Crawford vs. Andrew Cottle

8:33 — Tanner Telford vs. Bowen Mauss

8:42 — David Jennings vs. Josh Howe

8:51 — Brandon Robison vs. Justin Shukler

9.00 – Simon Kwon vs. Devin Tovey

9:09 — Braxton Watts vs. Leo Torres

9:18 — Zac Jones vs. Kenny Palmer

9:27 – Elliot Bond vs. Brendan Thomas

9:36 — Ryker Dunkley vs. Peyton Hastings

9:45 — Brigham Gibbs vs. Dan Horner

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