School is out, but the Brigham Young University golf team had a very good day at Soldier Hollow Golf Course. BYU teammates Zac Blair and Justin Keiley, won their first-round matches in the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
Blair defeated Byron Meth, 4 and 3, while Keiley beat Ryan Werre on the 19th hole.
Blair, who grew up in nearby Park City, lives in Ogden and goes to college in Provo – all located less than an hour from Solider Hollow – took an early lead by winning three of the first four holes.
"I tried to keep the pressure on him," said Blair. "As holes start running out, it gets to where they need to force it. So if you have a lead, it always helps. Closing out someone is tough. They’re going to give you everything they’ve got."
After his win, Blair watched his teammate Keiley, who is from Haiku, Hawaii. All square after 17 holes, both Keiley and his opponent, Canada’s Ryan Werre, went for the 18th green from the tee, which was moved up to make the hole play just 302 yards.
The setup enticing players into going for the green and generating excitement worked as planned, as both players made birdie after hitting 3-wood over the water hazard that guards the green. Werre putted first, leaving Keiley with an eight-footer to extend the match.
"That was a must-make putt," said Keiley. "My nerves were going pretty good there."
Keiley won the match on the 19th hole when Werre missed a five-footer for par. The win was a breakthrough for Keiley.
"It’s the first time I’ve won a match in a USGA event," said Keiley, who is playing in his fifth USGA championship. "To have it be in Utah and the fact that I go to school in Utah makes it pretty special."
The third player in match play with Utah ties, Dan Horner, could not join his fellow Beehive Staters in the Round of 32. Horner lost, 3 and 2, to Jacob Knapp, 18, of Costa Mesa, Calif. Horner was 1 down after 13 holes, but made bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes that provided Knapp the opportunity to seal the match on the 16th hole with a birdie.
"The one hole doesn’t set up well to my eye; on the other my hand slipped," Horner said of his late bogeys.
Despite the disappointment, Horner was in decent spirits afterward, even cracking a joke.
"I’m going home," he said when asked about the match. "But at least I don’t have a long drive."
Blair and Keiley, who are on opposite sides of the match-play bracket hope their paths lead them not back to Provo but toward a collision course in the championship match on Saturday.
"I expect [Keiley] to do some big things this week," said Blair. "Hopefully I’ll see him a little down the road."
From a starting field of 156 players in the APL, exactly 64 players fell inside the cut line after two round of stroke play. So for the second time in four years, no playoff was necessary to determine the match-play field.
The playoffs came on Wednesday at Soldier Hollow, however, as six of the 32 matches went to extra holes. There were three extra-hole matches last year in the first round at Bandon Dunes, and only one in 2010 at the Champions Course at Bryan Park.
In the first match, Alex Edfort rolled in a 50-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to extend his match against James Erkenbeck. Edfort then eagled the par-5 third hole, the 21st of the match, to defeat the qualifying medalist in the longest match of the day.
Likewise, Kevin Aylwin, of New Smyrna Beach, Fla., was 1 down on the 18th tee, but birdied the closing hole and went on to defeat his opponent, Jack Teal, of Excelsior, Minn., in 19 holes.
Keiley held a 3-up lead through six holes on his opponent, but the match against the Canadian Werre wasn’t decided until the 19th, when Werre missed a 5-foot par putt to extend the match.
Last year’s APL runner-up, Derek Ernst, also appeared to be in trouble after losing the 16th and 17th holes to birdies by Kirby Pettitt, of Carroll, Iowa. But Ernst rallied to win the 18th and 19th holes. Ernst also needed extra holes to dispatch his first-round opponent last year, Joseph David, of Madison, Tenn. Fittingly, Ernst lost the championship match to Corbin Mills in 37 holes in 2011.
Teeing It Forward
One major alteration in course setup that added excitement to the day’s action was the 18th hole, which had played at 464 yards during stroke play. With the tees moved up, the hole measured 302 yards, making it a risk-reward par 4 that was reachable off the tee by many of the players.
Twelve of the 32 matches reached the 18th, forcing the players to decided whether they wanted to lay up or challenge the creek in front of the green for a chance at making an eagle.