And then there were two — Aggies that is.
The field at the 121st Utah State Amateur Championship is now down to eight after having started Monday with 288. Two rounds of match play was contested Thursday at Soldier Hollow Golf Course in Midway.
Among the quarterfinalists is Utah State sophomore-to-be Cameron Tucker and senior-to-be Chase Lansford. They both won two matches Thursday to continue their respective runs to the state title.
Two other former USU golfers saw their title hopes dashed on Thursday. Brennan Coburn and Braydon Swapp exited the State Am.
Tucker couldn’t have asked for a better start Thursday morning. He was up four holes after just eight into a match with Derek Penman. However, Penman rallied and won holes nine, 10 and 11 to get back in the match.
“I may have backed off a little,” Tucker said. “But my opponent just made three straight birdies and I couldn’t match him. If I’m being honest, I got a little worried that I might blow the lead after that.”
He almost did. After halving five straight holes, Penman won 17 to square the match.
Penman hit his drive into the tall grass, while Tucker felt good about his drive even though it made its way into a fairway bunker. Penman tried to get a free drop because of some animal holes but wasn’t awarded it, so he had to punch out onto the fairway and ended up with a par.
Meanwhile, Tucker got out of the sand and hit to within six feet of the pin. He birdied to win the hole and match, 1 up.
“My second shot was probably the best shot I hit of that match,” Tucker said. “I struck it super well. I kinda knew that I had won the match after that. But I got up there and sank the putt to win. It was a relief to win that match after losing my lead.”
In the afternoon, Tucker once again built an early lead by winning holes one, three and four against John Reid.
“I like to play with the lead and starting off like that just settles me down and makes my confidence soar,” Tucker said. “It also gives me a little cushion for the rest of the match and forces my opponent to play catch up.”
Tucker was still up three holes after eight, but Reid made a little run to get within a hole. Tucker, who never trailed, won 12 and 16, which brought the match to an end, 3 and 2.
“It was super important to end it early,” Tucker said. “It was nice not having the pressure of playing the last couple holes, plus I wanted to be able to have as much rest as possible for tomorrow.”
The Aggie from South Ogden said the afternoon was a bit different because of conditions.
“It was hard because even though the pin locations were the same, the greens got a little firmer and faster, so I had to make changes on my putts,” Tucker said. “On top of that, the UGA changed some of the tee boxes and the wind started to blow, which didn’t happen in the morning. But I knew that John had to adjust as well, so the first few holes were more about who could adjust the fastest.”
Lansford took on Nick Becker in his first match of the day, and each golfer won a hole early. It was even through seven holes. Then Lansford took charge, winning three straight holes. They each won a pair of holes on the back nine as Lansford brought the match to an end by taking the 16th for a 3 and 2 victory.
Lansford’s second match of the day was tight throughout. Neither golfer led by more than one hole. Trailing by one, Lansford won six and seven to take his first lead of the match. It was back and forth the rest of the way.
“Ryan (Brinley) and I had a great match today,” Lansford said. “We both played very steady and rarely made mistakes. I was hitting the ball in some really good spots and so I knew that if I could just get any kind of a lead then it would be tough for him to come back unless he made birdies.”
Lansford won 12 to get back in front. After halving three holes, Brinley took 16 to square up the match. They halved 17 and 18, forcing an extra hole.
“The 18th hole was an interesting one,” Lansford said. “The moment we stepped in the 18th tee, the wind kicked up to about 25 miles an hour and gusts up to 40. It was tough, not to mention that the 18th hole is maybe the hardest tee shot on the course due to bunkers and water on the right side. We both hit good drives, but the wind was so intense that we both hit poor shots that got beat up by the wind. We both failed to get up and down for par.”
So on to the 19th hole. They moved to the Gold course after having played on the Silver. The hole played straight down wind.
“After finding the fairway with my hybrid, I had 130 yards left to the elevated green and was able to hit my 56 degree sand wedge to about 12 feet,” Lansford explained. “Ryan hit his approach shot to about 40 feet and lagged his up to about four feet for a likely two-putt par, so I knew I had to roll mine in to win the match. Fortunately, I read the putt perfectly and stroked the ball right where I wanted, and I’m grateful to have it drop for a birdie to win the match.”
This is the second State Am for the Aggie golfer from Texas. He made it to the round of 32 in 2017.
Coburn made it three players with USU ties reaching the final 16. He beat third-seeded Cole Ponich, 2 up, in his first match Thursday.
In his first match of the day, Coburn fell behind by two holes through five. After halving three holes, Coburn got on a hot streak, taking holes nine, 10, 11 and 14 to seize the lead. Ponich made it interesting by winning 17, but Coburn finished off the match by capturing the last hole.
In the afternoon, Coburn took on 51st seed Elijah Turner. The former Aggie saw his State Am come to a close in a 5 and 3 loss. Turner seized the lead by winning holes three, four and six, and never looked back.
Coburn showed some life by fighting back to capture holes seven and eight. Turner responded with wins on nine, 10, 14 and 15 to win the match.
Swapp came up a bit short in his bid to get back to the title match. He had played in the championship match in ’17. Seventh-seeded Zach Jones beat Swapp Wednesday morning, 3 and 2.
“Yeah, I didn’t play my best today,” Swapp said.
Jones had built a three-hole lead by the time they had reached the seventh hole. Swapp did win No. 7, but Jones built his lead to four holes by the 12th hole. Swapp won the 14th, but couldn’t muster another win. After the pair halved 15 and 16, the match ended.
The quarterfinals and semifinals will be contested Friday. The final two will square off on Saturday in a 36-hole championship.
Defending champion Preston Summerhays is the top-seeded player left in the field at No. 2. Tucker is the next best at sixth and on the same side of the bracket as Summerhays. Lansford at 16th is the lowest-seeded player left on the other side of the bracket.