MIDWAY — It’ll be a BYU Cougar against a Cal Golden Bear in the finals of Utah’s 124th Men’s Amateur Golf Tournament on Saturday, but make no mistake.
Even this golden bear has a bit of BYU in it.
BYU’s Zac Jones, a 21-year-old sophomore who helped lead Lone Peak High to three state championships before a church mission to Mexico and then Florida, will meet Simon Kwon of Cal, a sophomore rising star who was part of Skyline High’s golf dynasty a few years ago during the 36-hole championship game at Soldier Hollow Golf Course (Gold Course) in Midway.
Jones is part of one of Utah’s great golfing families – his father (Clark) and two brothers (Cooper and Tyler) were also in the Am State – while Kwon, 19, is the grandson. son of former BYU golfer Johnny Miller.
Because he was the medalist, shooting 66-66 on Monday and Tuesday, and because he wasn’t tested much over five games, Jones has to be considered a slight favorite.
“Simon is a good player. We played junior golf together when we were younger. … We played tournaments together. I know he’s good. He’s smart, doesn’t really make mistakes. … It’s going to be a good game.- State Am runner-up Zac Jones.
But don’t count out Kwon, who carries Miller bloodlines even though his father (Johnny) and mother (Casi) don’t play golf.
“Simon is a good player,” Jones said. “We played junior golf together when we were younger. … We participated in tournaments together. I know he is good.
“He’s smart, doesn’t really make mistakes. … It will be a good game.
Kwon said his famous grandfather no longer has a home in nearby Charleston, but the well-known Hall of Fame golfer and former TV golf analyst was due to fly to Utah on Friday night and “could show up” for the championship game.
“It’s great (to be Miller’s grandson),” Kwon said. “I mean, I like coming from a family that’s really good. … And it’s great that if I ever need help I can just ask him and go to him and my uncles are all from very good players too, so it’s great to have that.
Doesn’t sharing the same last name as the former big BYU take some of the pressure off?
“Honestly, I never think about it,” said Kwon, who has some of the same mannerisms of his grandfather, like walking straight and taking big strides.
“It doesn’t matter to me.”
For much of Friday’s quarterfinals and semifinals, it looked like there could be an all-BYU final, as Cougars eldest David Timmins was 1 ahead of Kwon heading into the 18th hole of their quarter-final match.
But Kwon birdied 12-by-18 to force extra holes, then won the game with another birdie on their 19th hole.
It was eerily similar to what happened in Timmins last year at the Alpine Country Club, when seasoned amateur Dan Horner had miraculous shots to pass him on the home stretch.
“Honestly, I was really trying to stay engaged throughout and not worry too much about the results,” Kwon said of the birdie on 18.
“All I was worried about was getting good speed and starting it online. I didn’t want to worry about anything else.
Kwon used that momentum to send Weber State golfer Hayden Banz into the semifinals, birdying the first two holes to take an early two-hole lead.
He never trailed and closed it on the 15th hole to win 4 and 3.
After losing to Skyline teammate Tyson Shelley — now a BYU golfer — in the State Junior Amateur finals two years ago, Kwon said he’ll use it “as a learning experience” on Saturday.
“I know I’ve improved, especially with my mental game, since then,” he said.
Jones started Friday with a narrow, competitive win over former Utes golfer Steven Croft, taking a 2-and-1 decision in a game where no golfer led by more than two holes.
He battled through a few double bogeys and had four birdies to oust Croft, a father of twins who has enjoyed great success in recent years on the state’s amateur golf circuit.
He beat John Owen, 49, in contention to become the oldest champion in State Am history, in the afternoon.
Jones sank a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 14th to close it.
“Getting to the final is pretty awesome,” Jones said.
Owen, a former University of Utah golfer who turned pro briefly after college before returning to amateur status, said he “wasn’t spry all day” and that he had the chance to beat Cameron Howe in his morning match.
“Luckily I hid one,” said the Draper resident, who owns a floor and carpet cleaning business.
Owen said he exceeded his expectations in qualifying for the Final Four.
“Absolutely,” he said. “That was my goal from the start. Even though I’m a bit older than those guys, I still like to compete, so every day I focused on one shot at a time.
“Match play is very different from stroke play, so maybe that helped.”
Jones admits he was hoping to see Timmins in the finals, especially after two Utes have played in the last two Am State Finals – Tomlinson and Mitchell Schow at Jeremy Ranch in 2020 and Tomlinson and Martin Leon last year.
“We were excited when we got to the (opposite) side of the bracket, hoping we could both (move forward), but he struggled today and got beaten up,” Jones said.
The championship game will start at 8:00 a.m. on the Gold Course. Admission is free and spectators are welcome.