Next month’s 116th Utah Women’s State Amateur championship golf tournament at Ogden Golf & Country Club will feature one of the strongest fields in the history of the event, especially if 2020 champion Grace Summerhays of the Arizona State University women’s golf team plays, as has been rumored.
But the girls and women won’t necessarily be chasing the 18-year-old Summerhays, who took the title two years ago at Soldier Hollow Golf Course.
“The pro at the time, Kean Ridd, noticed me and gave me my first set of clubs, and I just went from there. I owe a lot to him and East Bay for getting me started.” — defending Utah Women’s State Am champion Lila Galea’i
There was a new champion last year, and the long-hitting Lila Galea’i of the BYU women’s golf team is as intimidating with her length as any player in recent memory.
“She is definitely one of the favorites,” said the woman who lost to Galea’i in 19 holes in the championship match last year at Oakridge Country Club in Farmington, incoming Cougars freshman Berlin Long of Lone Peak High.
Long, her sister Aadyn, four-time champion Kelsey Chugg and Galea’i all played the par-72 layout bordering Washington Boulevard in Ogden on Thursday and pronounced the course ready to test the best female players in the state. The tournament begins Aug. 1 with 18 holes of stroke-play qualifying to determine the low 32 players who will advance to match play.
The 18-hole championship match is Aug. 4.
Berlin Long, who won two 6A girls individual state championships in her career at Lone Peak, said winning the tournament is “up there” on her bucket list, especially after what happened last year. She led Galea’i by two holes with two to play, but Galea’i birdied 17 and 18 to force a sudden-death playoff, then birdied No. 1 in the playoff to take the trophy.
“I guess my favorite memories from last year were that last putt against Berlin and how on No. 17 my putt dropped for birdie to get me within one,” Galea’i said. “I knew I had a chance then, because anything can happen with match play.”
Galea’i said the win “sorta changed my life” and gave her “a huge confidence boost” heading into her second season at BYU.
“I remember coming into the State Am, I kept winning matches and I told my mom, ‘Man, I might have a chance to win this.’ She told me to keep doing what I was doing, and finish strong, and that’s what I did. It was really cool.”
Galea’i’s entire story is cool, particularly because nobody else in her family plays competitive golf. Raymond and Mili Galea’i have eight children — six daughters and two sons — and Lila (who can play the ukulele behind her back, according to her profile on BYUcougars.com) is the only one who takes golf seriously.
Raymond played football at Dixie State, brother Jray played football at BYU and sister Eternity played basketball at BYU.
“We are an athletic family,” Lila said. “We all play sports, from football to basketball to volleyball, but I’m the only one who golfs, really.”
After her family moved to Utah County from Kahuku, Hawaii, in 2009, Raymond Galea’i got a part-time job closing up the East Bay Golf Course (now Timpanogos Golf Course) in Provo and little Lila would knock balls around the practice greens and driving range with her father’s old clubs as she waited for his shift to end.
“The pro at the time, Kean Ridd, noticed me and gave me my first set of clubs, and I just went from there,” she said. “I owe a lot to him and East Bay for getting me started.”
Lila quickly became a young phenom, and in 2017 she won the 13-14 age division of the Utah Junior Amateur’s championship match, defeating Berlin Long. She’s proud that she’s able to show the world that people of Pacific Islander descent can thrive at golf, and lists fellow Polynesian Tony Finau among her heroes.
“I mean, golf, it has given me the opportunity to meet so many new people. And all the people that I have met in my life, I know I wouldn’t have been able to meet if I didn’t play golf,” she said. “Honestly, I just see it as a blessing. To be able to be here is just a blessing.”
Galea’i humbly says she had a “decent” sophomore season at BYU. She began the 2021-22 season by tying for first at the Dick McGuire Invitational and finished the year with an 11th-place finish at the West Coast Conference championships. She tied for 21st at the NCAA Franklin (Tennessee) Regional.
Since the college season ended, she has played in the Southwestern Amateur in Arizona and attempted to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur in Colorado, missing the cut by a couple of shots. She won the Sizzler Am at Talking Stick Golf Club in Arizona the week after playing in the Southwestern Amateur, defeating runner-up Jieming Yang by 13 strokes.
“I have been playing pretty well,” she said. “I have been making some changes to my swing, with the help of coach (Carrie) Roberts at BYU, and others. Nothing major, just working on little things. I am ready (to defend her 2021 title).”
Beyond college, Galea’i hopes to play golf professionally and see where it takes her. Her strengths are her length — she estimates she hits the ball 300 yards off the tee — and her ability to play under pressure, she said.
Her favorite courses are Timpanogos (of course) and Thanksgiving Point.
Her dream foursome?
“I gotta go with Tiger Woods, for sure,” she said. “And then Michael Jordan, even though he’s not a golfer. I have always wanted to golf with him. Then I would say Tony Finau and Viktor Hovland.”
BYU golf coach Carrie Roberts takes a selfie with Lila Galea’i after Galea’i won the Utah Women’s State Amateur golf tournament against Berlin Long at Oakridge Country Club in Farmington on Thursday, July 1, 2021. Galea’i will be back at this year’s Women’s Am at Ogden Golf & Country Club to defend her title.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News