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Former Champion Jon Wright Bumps Two Cougars, Faces Preston Richards in State Am Finals
Jon Wright, one of the ultimate Utes, loves being a nemesis of the Cougars. Saturday was the ultimate. He defeated Cougar and defending champion Cole Ogden in the quarterfinals of the Utah State Am, 3 and 2, and then in the semifinals, in dramatic fashion, pulled the plug on BYU’s rising left-handed star Tommy Higham with a 195 yard tee shot to within three feet on the last hole to clinch the match and advance to the finals.
The Lower Bracket saw 24-year-old Preston Richards, a relatively unsung senior at Utah Valley University, advanced to the finals with a 4 and 3 win over Kurt Owen in the quarterfinals and by a 2-up margin over Kai Ruiz in the semifinals.
The 36-hole championship match between Jon Wright and Preston Richards will begin at 7:30 a.m. There will be a lunch intermission after the first 18 holes and the final 18 holes will begin around 11:00.
Defending champion Cole Ogden’s dream of winning back-to-back championships ended with his loss to Wright in the quarters. The loss ended a skein of nine straight match play victories for Ogden and extended to 12 the number of years it has been since a champion repeated. That was last achieved by Daniel Summerhays in 2000 and 2001.
Wright’s game is in near perfect form and he took control of the quarterfinal match when he won the fourth hole with a birdie putt and never relinquished the lead. A big turning point in the match came on the seventh hole when Ogden made a rare chipping mistake that gave Wright a three hole advantage.
On the back nine Ogden got the tide going his direction when he won the tenth and 11th holes to cut it to one, but on the 12th hole he let his fairway wood slip to the right, and although the out of bounds doesn’t seem close to the green, it is a factor for the long hitters trying to reach the green in two, and his ball reached no-no territory.
On the 13th, a short par four, Wright made a tender 20-foot birdie putt to reclaim the three hole lead and reverse the momentum in his favor with only five holes to play. Ogden ran out of holes on the 16th.
After disposing of Ogden in the quarterfinals Wright, a died-in-the-wool Ute, faced another Cougar in the semifinals, rising left-handed star in Tommy Higham. Higham pressed Wright the entire way and neither player led by more than a hole until Wright gained the upper hand by winning the 14th, 15th, and 16th holes to jump from one behind to two-up with two to play.
Wright bogeyed the 17th and failed to close the door, but that only set the stage for a thrilling finish on the dramatic 195 yard par three finishing hole. That finishing hole has been the scene of some important State Am shots. Higham needed to win the hole, and a tie would be just fine for Wright.
Higham’s tee shot settled on the edge of the green, some 30-plus feet from the hole, with par very likely and that only added pressure to Wright’s tee shot.
He hit a near perfect shot, and with the gallery roaring excitement the ball landed near the hole and checked up about three-foot away. With Wright’s par assured, Higham needed birdie. His putt missed the mark and Higham conceded the match. It was another great 18th hole shot to add to the tournament lore of the Ogden Golf and Country Club.
Richards Surprise Finalist
When the tournament began Preston Richards wasn’t a favorite to win the championship. His rise through the 116th Utah State Amateur at first glance is a surprise to some but his play this week has changed that train of thought. Being a very tall person, he casts a long shadow, but he has spent a lifetime in the shadow of his older brother Lance, who played college golf at the University of Utah; his dad, Doug Richards, who was a basketball star at BYU in the golden days; and his uncle Golden Richards, who was a fleet-footed receiver in BYU’s glory years of football.
Competition is part of the genome of the Richards family and they should never be counted out.
Preston’s trek to the title match included a 3 and 2 win over Danny Hafen; a huge upset over one of the legitimate tournament favorites, Devon Purser, 2 and 1; a 19 hole victory over Marty Jacks; a 4 and 3 triumph over Kurt Owen; and then in the semifinals, edged Kai Ruiz, 2-up.
Richards got off to a slow start in his semifinal battle with rising star Kai Ruiz. He lost the first and third holes, won the fourth, and lost the sixth. Richards gained his equilibrium when he birdied the very difficult seventh and eighth holes and the match was all square going to the backside.
They exchanged bogeys on the 10th and 11th and Ruiz took the lead again with a birdie on 13, but for the third time Richards came back to square the match.
Richards gained his first lead of the day when Ruiz bogeyed the par three 15th. Ruiz was unable to square the match on the 16th or 17th, and Richards won the 18th to advance to the finals.
For Wright, Richards It’s a Rematch
Going into this year’s tournament Preston’s State Am record was 1-1. This year he has won five straight and now faces, drum roll please………Jon Wright, the only person that has ever beat him in the State Am.
That’s right. The first time Preston ever made match play he lost his round of 32 match to Jon Wright at Soldier Hollow GC, 3 and 2, and here they are again, but this time it is in the finals at Ogden Golf and Country Club.
Jon Wright def. Cole Ogden, 3 and 2
Tommy Higham def. CJ Lee, 4 and 3
Preston Richards def. Kurt Owen, 4 and 3
Kai Ruiz def. Thomas Young, 4 and 3
Jon Wright def. Tommy Higham, 2-up
Preston Richards def. Kai Ruiz, 2-up