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Lots of Favorites in 115th Utah State Am at Soldier Hollow

The 115th consecutive Utah State Am begins Monday at Soldier Hollow under some major format innovations and without a stick out favorite.Defending champion Jon Wright has an edge on the field in that he has already earned the number one seed in the match play portion of the tournament. In past years that meant that he was in a match play tournament involving only 32 players. This year, under the expanded match play format, he is only one of 64 players. This year the champion must win six matches instead of the five required in past years.Jeff Evans is also a defending champion of sorts. He won the title at Solder Hollow two years ago and so it could be said he is defending his turf. He won five straight matches there two years ago and if there’s to be a new champion someone is going to have to beat him first. He’s not likely to let the title go without resistance, and let’s not forget Stratton Schulz who was runnerup at Soldier Hollow and blitzed all his opponents but Evans. Shulz plays Soldier Hollow very well.Joe Parkinson could also be considered a defending champion of sorts. He won the title in 2010 at his home course at Alpine Country Club, but since then has been on an LDS mission and this is the first time he has had a chance to defend his title. Maybe, in fairness, the committee should let him redeem his exemption into match play this year. Dan Horner won the State Am at Soldier Hollow back in 2008, but didn’t even make it to match play when it was held there in 2011. In fact, Horner has made match play seven of the last eight years—the only missing year being the one at Soldier Hollow in 2011. Horner has a 13-6 match play record in the last eight years.There are five other past champions who are entered and they have proven an ability to win it in the past and that provides a reason to be listed as a favorite. Those five are Steve Borget, Todd Barker, Darrin Overson, Clark Rustand, and Joe Parkinson. With the new ‘must walk’ rule from the quarterfinals on it diminishes the chances of aging champs like seniors Borget and Barker, and it could even be a slight disadvantage for Mid-Ams such as Overson and Rustand. Kirk Siddens, the recent winner of the UGA Senior Am , would probably also fit in that category.
The grueling tournament always favored the younger players, but the new format greatly reduces the likelihood of success for the mid-ams and over.
Other favorites would be a dozen collegiate players from throughout the state that would include Cole Ogden, Jacob Holt Devon Purser, Brandon Kida, Mike Jurca, Casey Halliday, Tanner Higham, Jordan Rodgers, Jordan Hammer. Of that group Cole Ogden seems to be sizzling at the highest temperature at the moment.
Brandon Hargett just won the Art City Amateur and Ryan Brimley shot a 61 to win the Glendale Amateur.
There were other potential favorites, such as Zac Blair, Mason Casper, and Carl Jensen. Blair and Casper have got bigger fish to fry and the arrival of their third child and work pressures precluded Jensen from playing this year.
The State Am is also the regular birthplace of up and coming stars. It’s where future good players get their wings, and this year won’t be any different. Who will it be?Who will be the giant killers?Schedule of EventsMonday- First round of qualifying with 288 players on the Gold and Silver courses at Soldier Hollow.Tuesday- The final round of qualifying, followed by a playoff for the final match play spots if necessary.Wednesday- The match play round of 64.Thursday- The Champions Breakfast followed by the morning Round of 32 and the afternoon Round of 16.Friday- The 18-hole quarterfinal round in the morning and the 18-hole semifinals in the afternoon. Players must walk.Saturday- The 36-hole championship match. The players must walk.