SCOTTSDALE – A young fan in a maroon Arizona State polo shirt greeted Preston Summerhays moments before he teed off on the 10th hole to begin the second day of the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship.
He jotted down his “P Summerhays” signature on the back of the fan’s polo and gave him a golf ball. The fan turned around and covered his mouth in awe of what he just received. A regular shirt quickly turned into a piece of memorabilia from one of Arizona State’s most accomplished homegrown golfers in the history of the program.
The fan represented one of the many at Grayhawk Golf Club cheering on the hometown hero since Friday. Summerhays is just one of four in the 155-player field who resides in Arizona and the only one from the home of Grayhawk in Scottsdale.
“If anything, having it be at home and kind of having that home crowd, it’s actually going to help because you’ll be able to get momentum from the crowd, and it’s going be a great atmosphere out there,” he said after his practice round Wednesday evening.
The crowd did not disappoint – and neither did Summerhays. While he started the final round of stroke play Monday with a three-putt bogey on the first hole, he bounced back with birdie opportunities on the next five holes, converting on two of them. He recorded a birdie and a bogey on the final 11 holes to finish the day at 1-under, and finished the tournament tied for 18th. He also pushed the Sun Devils into Tuesday’s match-play portion of the national championship, where ASU lost its round to No. 1 seed North Carolina 3-1-0.
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“I’ve played really good, but I didn’t have my best stuff,” Summerhays said after Monday’s round. “I definitely left some out there. I felt like I played (the course) correctly, but I didn’t quite play to the best of my abilities. But my game is in a really good spot.”
As Summerhays walked off the course, he was aware of the possibility of a playoff to advance to the Sun Devils match-play portion of the national championship as Stanford, tied with Arizona State for the eighth and final spot, finished its round on the 18th hole. The Cardinal managed to avert further damage on the par- 4, 520-yard hole to set up a playoff between the Pac-12 foes.
After one tiebreaker in which both teams drew with a cumulative score of even par, they played another grouping of holes. With the match in the balance, Summerhays had a 15-foot birdie putt to advance the Sun Devils to its third consecutive match-play tournament at Grayhawk. The putt was in the center of the hole – a perfect putt with the Arizona State season hanging in the balance.
Summerhays walked off the course with plenty of smiles, fist bumps and hugs. After 74 holes of golf throughout the last four days, the exhaustion was met with adrenaline and created just enough energy to cherish what he had just accomplished.
The moment was reminiscent of his playing days at Grayhawk at 15 years old, when he competed at the 2018 Ping Interclub State Championship. He was one stroke out of the lead heading into the par-5, 18th hole. With his dad, Boyd – a former PGA Tour player – by his side, the two discussed what type of shot to hit. He took a five-iron out of his bag and hit it within 20 feet of the hole. With the tournament on the line, he nailed the eagle putt to win it. He and his dad embraced soon thereafter in a moment that he will never forget.
Five years later, Summerhays, 20, embraced the opportunity to play in front of a much larger home crowd at golf’s biggest amateur event.
The advantages seem plentiful with the course just a few miles away from his residence. He could play the course more than most of his peers, or perhaps sleep in his own bed after each round. And of course, the biggest advantage could be having played on this course before.
The disadvantages could be just as damning. Every golfer dreams of the opportunity to play with the stakes at its highest.
“I feel pressure, but it’s healthy pressure; it’s not added,” Summerhays said last week before the tournament. “I’m not going to go out there and put extra pressure because it’s in my hometown. Every event is the same. It’s always the same goal to go out there and win.”
The preparation that goes into his game alleviates some of the pressure. He recently cut out sugar from his diet, adding to his commitment to be the best both on and off the course.
“Mentally, he knows exactly who he is and what he does,” said Arizona State men’s golf coach Matt Thurmond. “His routines are really dialed in. So he knows how to get himself ready. He knows how to handle the various challenges that come at him because he’s just more experienced and thoughtfully prepared. He continues to become better as a ball striker. I think he’s hitting the ball very well. And I’d say mostly, he’s just really confident. He’s had a lot of success.
“He’s one of the best players in the country this year. And there’s no shot that he’s scared to hit and no situation he’s scared to be in.”
Throughout the first two rounds, he kept the ball in play with a chance for many birdie putts from 10-15 feet out. He couldn’t get many of them to fall and sat at 1-over par at the end of the second round.
The course had played particularly difficult over the first two days. The average score for the field over the last two days was slightly above 7-over par.
The key to playing at Grayhawk this year was keeping the ball in play. Pin locations and sloped greens at adventurous distances meant keeping the ball in the fairway was imperative for success.
Right before set his tee in the first tee box to start the third round Sunday, an errant tee shot struck Summerhays’ grandmother, Jean, after a player’s shot missed the first-hole fairway to the right and bounced off the cart path. Multiple people in golf carts came to her immediate aid before she was escorted away from the course.
She was back on the course by the fourth hole, determined to watch her grandson on amateur golf’s biggest stage.
“It was really scary, especially teeing off that first hole,” Summerhays said. “But I got to see her as she was driving in from that first tee box, and she seemed to be fine, so I (was able to) settle in pretty quickly after that.”
Summerhays parred the first four holes before bogeying the fifth. He immediately bounced back with a birdie on the sixth hole and on two of the next four holes, getting to 2-under. On the back nine, he cooled off with two bogeys and finished the day at even par.
He returned with a strong showing Monday to put the Sun Devils in contention and pushed them across to the match-play portion of the national championship with the team’s best put of the season. But for just a few minutes, the world slowed down just enough for him to cherish this moment – this memory – with his family.
He may not have finished in first place, but he produced a highlight-reel finish this weekend for Sun Devil golf while adding to his legacy among the ASU greats such and Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson.