ERIN, Wis. – The 117th U.S. Open was not the best of times for Daniel Summerhays, the man with the stocky, fire-hydrant build who hails from Utah. His putter wasn’t working very well, a rarity for him, and that made the going rough at a demanding course such as Erin Hills.
But he enjoyed his walk, and he’ll march on, knowing his day soon will arrive. Summerhays, 33, a man who spent two years of his life on a Mormon mission in Chile, may come off as reserved and polite, but inside him something burns.
Bigger days lie ahead. He’s confident of that.
Standing on treacherous U.S. Open greens, unsure with the putter, is not a good place to be. Just ask Dustin Johnson or Rory McIlroy, both of whom had the weekend off. Summerhays came in riding high on confidence following two top-8 major finishes in 2016.
“When you’re not positive of where your start line is, and you’re not sure on the read …” Summerhays started after a second-round 72. He paused and smiled. “Golf’s a great game. It tests us to the extremes, for sure. I’ll get it figured out.”
He will, and right there helping him get back on the rails will be his older brother Boyd, a player-turned-instructor who spent time both on the Web.com Tour and PGA Tour and was there every step of the way at Erin Hills (along with Daniel’s wife, Emily, and their four children).
Boyd, nearly four years older and Daniel’s hero growing up in Utah, chased improvements in his game that didn’t end up placing him on a better path. He uses his experiences as he teaches rising players such as his brother and long-hitting Tony Finau.
Having a brother by one’s side makes the journey extra special for both men.
“I love it. He’s one of my best friends, and he believes in me a ton,” Daniel said. “He knows my history, he knows my weaknesses, he knows my strengths. He helps build the strengths, and he tries to let me take it easy on myself for my weaknesses. I’m the first to be super-self-critical, but that doesn’t really do a lot of good.”
Daniel always has been a great putter, dating to his junior and college days. At BYU where he was a first-team All-American, Daniel would break the hearts of his opponents in team matches, deciding matters by always making crucial putts. His teammates even gave that dastardly Ping B60 putter a nickname: Sweet Love. To this day he gets texts from teammates saying, “Dan, let Sweet Love loose today.”
Summerhays has been on Tour full-time since 2011, and has yet to win. But he’s gaining on it. At last year’s U.S. Open he shot 65 in the second round at Oakmont, an absolute beast. He’d eventually tie for eighth. Two months later at the PGA, he played great the last three rounds at Baltusrol and tied for third.
“I told him when he shot 65 at the U.S. Open, ‘Hey, you’re a different player now,’ ” Boyd said. “It doesn’t matter what you do the last two days – to shoot a 65 at Oakmont, you’ve done something you’ve never been able to do, shoot the lowest at Oakmont since Johnny (Miller, who shot 63 in 1973).
“Dan learned from that experience. That was the most nervous he’d ever felt, and the U.S. Open is a massive stage. At the PGA, to finish 6 under on the last 10 holes, that gave him confidence, too. He’s ready, for sure.”
Two weeks ago at The Memorial, Daniel had his best shot at breaking through to win his first PGA Tour title. He entered Sunday at Jack’s Place with a three-shot lead but shot 78 on Sunday, with a 41 on the back nine that was capped by a tough double at the last. Jack Nicklaus stands off the back of the 18th green on Sundays there, thanking players for coming. When he shook Summerhays’ hand, he also took time to offer some sage advice.
Nicklaus told Daniel to go back, review, analyze his day and take something from it. “Don’t let it get you down,” Nicklaus told Summerhays. “You’re playing great golf.”
The good play is in there. Summerhays patiently has been working to improve his ballstriking, and it’s better (he ranks 116th in strokes gained: tee-to-green). The cost? Less time spent on his short game, which hasn’t been sharp. In 20 starts heading into Erin Hills, he has one top-10, his T-10 at Memorial. He was 10th or better each of the last three seasons in strokes gained: putting. He started last week ranked 93rd.
He likens the state of his play right now to that amusement game you play at a county fair, “Whack A Mole.” Once you bat down one mole, another pops up.
“I’m close to getting them all down,” he said. “That’ll be a good thing. I definitely feel I continue to improve. You play in these events, you get more comfortable and your game gets better. You really start to feel like you are one of the better players in the world.”