MIDWAY — It will be a BYU Cougar against a Cal Golden Bear in the finals of the 124th Utah Men’s State Amateur golf tournament on Saturday, but don’t be fooled.
Even that Golden Bear has a little bit of BYU in him.
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 Cal’s Simon Kwon, a rising sophomore who was part of Skyline High’s golf dynasty a few years ago, in the 36-hole championship match at Soldier Hollow Golf Course (Gold Course) in Midway.
Jones is part of one of Utah’s great golf families — his father (Clark) and two brothers (Cooper and Tyler) were also in the State Am — while Kwon, 19, is the grandson of former BYU golfer Johnny Miller.
Because he was the medalist, shooting 66-66 Monday and Tuesday, and because he hasn’t been tested much through five matches, Jones has to be considered a slight favorite.
“Simon is a good player. We have played junior golf together when we were younger. … We have been in tournaments together. I know he is good. He is smart, doesn’t really make mistakes. … It will be a good match.” — State Am finalist Zac Jones.
But don’t count out Kwon, who carries the Miller bloodlines even though his father (Johnny) and mother (Casi) don’t play golf.
“Simon is a good player,” Jones said. “We have played junior golf together when we were younger. … We have been in tournaments together. I know he is good.
“He is smart, doesn’t really make mistakes. … It will be a good match.”
Kwon said his famous grandfather no longer has a home in nearby Charleston, but the Hall-of-Fame golfer and former well-known television golf analyst was scheduled to fly to Utah Friday night and “might show up” for the championship match.
“It is great (being Miller’s grandson),” Kwon said. “I mean, I love coming from a family that is really good. … And it is great that if I ever need help I can just ask him and go to him and my uncles are all really great players, too. So it is great to have that.”
Does not sharing the same last name as the former BYU great reduce some of the pressure?
“Honestly, I never think about it,” said Kwon, who has some of his grandfather’s same mannerisms, such as walking uprightly and taking big strides.
“It is not a big deal to me.”
For much of Friday’s quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, it appeared there could be an all-BYU final, as Cougars senior David Timmins was 1 up on Kwon heading into the 18th hole of their quarterfinal match.
But Kwon made a 12-foot birdie putt on 18 to force extra holes, then won the match with another birdie on their 19th hole.
It was eerily similar to what happened to Timmins last year at Alpine Country Club, when seasoned amateur Dan Horner made some miraculous shots to overtake him down the stretch.
“Honestly, I was just really trying to stay committed throughout it and not worry too much about 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 dispatch Weber State golfer Hayden Banz in the semifinals, making birdies on the first two holes to grab a quick two-hole lead.
He never trailed and closed it out on the 15th hole to win 4 and 3.
Having lost badly to Skyline teammate Tyson Shelley — now a BYU golfer — in the finals of the State Junior Amateur two years ago, Kwon said he will use that “as a learning experience” on Saturday.
“I definitely know I have improved, especially with my mental game, since then,” he said.
Jones began Friday with a tight, competitive win over former Utes golfer Steven Croft, taking a 2 and 1 decision in a match where neither golfer led by more than two holes.
He fought through a couple double-bogeys and made four birdies to oust Croft, a father of twins who has seen plenty of success the last few years on the state amateur golf circuit.
He defeated 49-year-old John Owen, vying 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 out.
“Getting to the finals is pretty awesome,” Jones said.
Owen, a former University of Utah golfer who turned pro briefly after college before regaining his amateur status, said he “wasn’t sharp all day” and was fortunate to beat Cameron Howe in his morning match.
“Luckily I snuck one out,” said the Draper resident who owns a flooring and carpet cleaning business.
Owen said he exceeded his expectations in getting to the Final Four.
“Absolutely,” he said. “That was my goal all along. Even though I am a little bit older than these guys, I still like to compete, so every day it was just focused on one shot at a time.
“Match play is a lot different than stroke play, so maybe that helped.”
Jones admits that he was hoping to see Timmins in the final, especially after two Utes have played in the last two State Am finals — Tomlinson and Mitchell Schow at Jeremy Ranch in 2020 and Tomlinson and Martin Leon last year.
“We were excited when we got on the (opposite) side of the bracket, hoping we could both (advance), but he struggled today and got beat,” Jones said.
The championship match will begin at 8 a.m. on the Gold Course. Admission is free and spectators are welcome.