by Kurt Kragthorpe
After winning a unique Women’s State Amateur in 2019, Kerstin Fotu will try to join a long list of back-to-back winners in this century when she tees off in mid-July at Soldier Hollow Golf Course in Midway.
Fotu, a BYU golfer from Lone Peak High School, prevailed last August in a field that didn’t include any former champions. That phenomenon probably never had occurred since the tournament’s first staging in 1900.
Even so, the competition was outstanding at Logan Country Club. That was especially true in the final match that went to the 18th hole, with Fotu’s par giving her a halve of the hole and a 1-up victory over Grace Summerhays.
Thanks to the presence of Fotu, four-time winner Kelsey Chugg and perhaps other former champions such as Tess Blair, the 2020 State Am field will have multiple golfers seeking another win in the historic tournament. And for many reasons, this will be a much anticipated event.
As of early March, no one would have imagined the Women’s State Amateur becoming the first tournament on the UGA’s 2020 schedule. The cancellation of the Winterchamps was the first phase of what became a major reworking of the UGA calendar, with the traditional State Amateur moving from June to September at Jeremy Ranch Golf & Country Club.
That switch creates a spotlight on the Women’s Am, accompanied by some mystery. Ordinarily, events such as the Mary Lou Baker Open and the Utah Women’s Four-Ball would provide a partial preview of the State Am. Instead, whatever unfolds on the Gold Course at Soldier Hollow will be novel in 2020.
Fotu is looking forward to it, that’s for sure. Not only is she the defending champion, but her radically mixed results in last summer’s Utah Women’s Stroke Play tournament provide both encouragement and motivation.
Fotu opened with a 70, but posted a final-round 81 in the wind and tied for second place with former Bingham High School star Carissa Graft, one stroke behind Idaho State golfer Tyler Erickson.
Fotu’s swing didn’t hold up well in the wind that day. She believes that a fall and (partial) spring season of working with BYU Coach Carrie Roberts on strategy and improving her swing will help considerably in her return to Soldier Hollow.
“I think my swing’s a lot different and (so is) the way I’m just managing the course better,” Fotu said. “I’ve learned so much at BYU. That’s the biggest game-changer.”
And that 81 aside, she’s a fan of Soldier Hollow, having played the course regularly as a junior golfer.
She’s excited about a potentially strong field, “just playing great opponents, with all of the talent in Utah,” Fotu said, “and seeing my friends.”
Five golfers have won consecutive Women’s State Amateur titles in this century, including Chugg, whose first two of four victories came in 2012 and ‘13. Chugg didn’t enter the tournament last year, when a national amateur schedule and a new job with Salt Lake City Golf occupied her focus.
Blair was still plotting her summer schedule as of mid-May, but if the 2018 champion competes at Soldier Hollow, she will be tough to beat after an outstanding freshman year at Sacramento State.
Summerhays, whose family spends the summers in Utah, should contend again on the Gold Course, where she reached match play in the 121st Utah State Amateur at Soldier Hollow last summer as the only woman in the field.
In keeping with the women’s format of the past decade, two rounds of stroke play will determine 16 qualifiers for match play. The field is limited to 66 contestants with a handicap index of 14.9 or lower; 45 players entered last year’s tournament.
The relatively small field should help make the Women’s State Am a good opening event for this year’s UGA calendar, and Soldier Hollow Head Professional Chris Newson is eager to add the tournament to the course’s history of hosting the State Amateur and the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
Kurt Kragthorpe is a sports journalist and senior writer for Fairways Media and a frequent contributor to Fairways magazine.