MIDWAY, Utah – Zac Blair continued his quest to give Utah a home-grown champion at the U.S. Amateur Public Links. Blair, a BYU senior, beat Pacific sophomore Byron Meth, 4 and 3, in the first round of match play at Soldier Hollow Golf Course.
This week’s Public Links is the first USGA championship in Utah. Blair won the first hole Wednesday with birdie after hitting 8-iron to 10 feet. He then won Nos. 3 and 4 with pars to go 3 up. He won five holes with par Tuesday.
“I hit it pretty well,” Blair said. “I stayed out of trouble, for the most part. I just cashed in on a few pars where he got himself into trouble. It was nice to get that lead in the beginning. It was a comfortable day.”
Blair isn’t the only BYU player in the Round of 32. His teammate, Justin Keiley, advanced after a 19-hole victory over Canada’s Ryan Werre.
Blair finished 10th in stroke play at Soldier Hollow with rounds of 71-69. He grew up in Park City, about a half-hour from Soldier Hollow. His current hometown, Ogden, is about 75 miles from here. Blair’s father, Jimmy, also played golf at BYU and is a former Utah Open champion. Jimmy Blair, who recently competed at the PGA Professional National Championship, walked in his son’s gallery Wednesday.
“He just told me to minimize the mistakes,” Zac Blair said. “I didn’t do a great job of that today, but I did enough to win.”
This week’s play was a continuation of another good summer for the younger Blair. He finished ninth at last week’s Sahalee Players Championship and was fifth at this year’s Northeast Amateur, one of the summer’s top events. Blair is listed at just 5 feet, 7 inches and 125 pounds on BYU’s roster – not your typical build in today’s game – but is No. 22 in the R&A World Amateur Ranking.
“He loves to compete. He’s not afraid of anybody,” BYU head coach Bruce Brockbank said during the college season. “When you look at him, you’re going to say, ‘Who’s this guy?’ But he’s going to be in a lot of fairways and hit a lot of good shots.”
Blair’s rise in the amateur game has been quick. He was No. 113 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings in the 2010-11 season but improved to 38th this past year. A lot of that improvement comes from the confidence of playing his first national amateur schedule in the summer of 2011.
He started that summer with a runner-up finish at the Sunnehanna Amateur, opening the floodgates for invitations. Blair’s summer schedule suddenly was filled by top-notch tournaments such as the Western and Pacific Coast amateurs. He won last year’s Pacific Northwest Amateur and the William H. Tucker Invitational, his second career college title.
“He just took off from there,” Brockbank said of the Sunnehanna. “Getting to compete against the best players in the country (last year) definitely elevated his game. The improvements he made in that eight-week period were impressive.”
And he continues to impress in his home state this week.