The Summer of Summerhays II
Last summer, Grace Summerhays barely missed her chance of winning a State Amateur title at an even younger age than her brother did. Her next-best possible achievement came July 16, when she became the youngest champion ever in the 114th Women’s State Amateur. Terry Norman Hansen, whose first of four titles came in 1980 when she was 17, was the previous youngest champion.
Having turned 16 the previous week, Summerhays validated her trophy with a 3-and-1 victory over four-time champion Kelsey Chugg in the 18-hole final match. That breakthrough came after she reversed the outcome of last year’s title match with a 1-up defeat of BYU golfer Kerstin Fotu in the morning semifinals on Soldier Hollow’s Gold Course.
That’s the venue where her brother Preston won his second State Am title last summer, a year after becoming the youngest winner of that historic event – about a month before his 16th birthday.
“Well, now I matched him,”Grace Summerhays said, smiling. “So that’s pretty fun.”
The latest chapter of Summerhays success stories in State Amateurs came in the first event of the Utah Golf Association’s reconfigured 2020 schedule and required some toughness on the back nines of Grace’s last three matches. Sunbin Seo in the quarterfinals, Fotu in the semifinals and Chugg in the final match each rallied and made Summerhays agonize to the end. She came through every time, living up to the family tradition.
“It isn’t easy being the younger sister of Preston,” said her father/caddie, Boyd Summerhays. “That casts a teeny bit of a shadow, and she’s never looked at it as a negative.”
Grace Summerhays will be a high school junior in Arizona; her family spends the summers in Farmington. Her title follows two State Am wins for her brother, another two for her uncle, Daniel, and one for her great uncle Bruce. No family in Utah golf history can match that list.
Here’s how the week unfolded for Summerhays:
Tess Blair, the 2018 champion in her Bingham High School days, was the biggest story of the first round of stroke-play qualifying. She’s credited with the women’s record on the Gold Course after posting a 5-under-par 67 and taking a five-stroke lead over Summerhays and Chanikan Yongyuan, a Southern Utah University golfer from Thailand.
Blair, the Big Sky Conference Player of the Year as a Sacramento State freshman, went on to claim medalist honors and the No. 1 seed for match play with an 8-under-par total. Summerhays showed good signs by birdieing the last three holes for a 69 that gave her the No. 2 seed.
Having made a swing adjustment after the first round, Summerhays said, “I just exaggerated it at the end and started hitting it good. The putter’s really good, which is always good in match play, and I’m starting to hit it a lot better, so I feel good.”
Fotu, meanwhile, rallied with a 72 (a 10-stroke improvement) to make match play as the No. 14 seed, in Summerhays’ half of the bracket.
Summerhays opened match play with a 6-and-5 win over Launa Wilson. She then held off a rally by Seo, a Timpview High golfer whose surge featured a hole-in-one on No. 12, in between winning birdies on Nos. 11 and 13. Seo was 4 down after 10 holes and never quite caught up, losing 2 and 1.
The semifinal match between Summerhays and Fotu played out similarly. Summerhays was 4 up through 12 holes, before Fotu went on a putting rampage and won Nos. 13, 14 and 17. Each players tried to drive the green on the par-4 No. 18, playing 246 yards, and just missed to the right. Summerhays chipped to within 3 feet, matching Fotu’s birdie and clinching the match.
Chugg had survived a 41-hole day to overcome two teenage stars in the first two rounds (going 21 holes vs. Berlin Long and 20 holes vs. Lila Galea'i) and held off Blair for a 1-up victory of her own. Chugg made a downhill birdie putt on No. 18, with Blair positioned to force extra holes.
So the final match was set, with history to be written, one way or the other. Modeling her father’s usual all-black attire, including her two gloves, Summerhays displayed the kind of consistency and finishing power that has distinguished Chugg’s career. Chugg, 29, was the only post-college golfer to make the match-play field of 16, and she played an average of 19.67 holes in her first three matches. But after her 18th-hole birdie closed out Tess Blair in the semifinals, Chugg couldn’t play beyond No. 17 in the final match.
About a half-hour after the competition ended, she teed off on No. 18 on the way back to the clubhouse, in hopes of leaving Soldier Hollow with a better feeling after losing the final three holes to Summerhays. Her biggest regret was missing a par putt from inside of 2 feet on No. 15, followed by missing the greens with approach shots on the next two holes. Including No. 16, she bogeyed three of the four par-5s, most as a result of putting problems.
“Definitely not my best final round,” she said. “I don’t know if it was fatigue or what; just kind of lost focus. The putter was the big thing, I had no confidence.”
Tied with Summerhays through 14 holes, Chugg could have won yet another match with clutch play. Instead, it was Summerhays who steadied herself and pulled away to the victory in difficult, windy conditions.
Summerhays lost her first-round match on the Gold Course in the traditional State Amateur last year, after becoming the second woman to qualify for match play. She departed Soldier Hollow with better memories this time, while looking forward to playing in the U.S. Women’s Amateur in Maryland along with Chugg, Yongyuan and BYU's Allysha Mateo in early August.
“I’m excited about where my game is headed,” Summerhays said, having a great future to go with her family’s past.
Kurt Kragthorpe is a sports journalist and senior writer for Fairways Media and a frequent contributor to Fairways magazine.