Simon Kwon (UGA Photo)
Among the many memorable moments of Simon Kwon’s victory in the 125th Utah State Amateur Championship was his closing sequence of the front nine of Tuesday’s second round of stroke play: 3-3-3-3-3.
The number that really framed his State Am experience, though, was “2.”
All he wanted was a second chance to win the trophy, and Kwon followed through wonderfully. His 6-and-5 win over David Liechty in Saturday’s 36-hole final match completed an unusual achievement. Not since Bruce Brockbank, the longtime BYU men’s golf coach, in 1987 had anyone won the State Am after losing in the previous summer’s final match.
And to have to happen at The Country Club, factoring in Kwon’s geography and genealogy, made it all the more meaningful.
Kwon has grown up on Wilshire Circle, bordering the eastern edge of The Country Club. The Skyline High School graduate pinpointed the house’s location along the No. 8 fairway as “a little bit past the fairway bunkers.”
No. 8 turned out to be significant in multiple ways, as the site of two winning birdies for Kwon in both the morning and afternoon rounds Saturday. That’s also where his disastrous start of stroke play bottomed out, before Kwon proceeded to play phenomenal golf on the back nine Monday and in the remaining five days of the tournament.
The ultimate result left him with “a little better feeling than last year, that’s for sure,” he said, smiling.
After his semifinal victory Friday over 45-year-old Dan Horner, Kwon was asked about his memories of that loss to BYU’s Zac Jones at Soldier Hollow Golf Club.
Saturday’s match played out a lot like that one, only in the opposite way from Kwon’s perspective. In each case, the winner was 4 up after the morning round and the runner-up made things mildly interesting in the afternoon. As Jones did, Kwon reasserted himself in the end, delighting his parents, Johnny Kwon (who caddied for him) and the former Casi Miller.
Liechty also made his friends and family proud, among the gallery of nearly 100.
“Second’s not too bad,” said Liechty, whose run to the final match included an epic, 23-hole duel in the round of 16 with Peter Kim, Kwon’s former Skyline teammate and the stroke-play medalist. As he said after his semifinal defeat of 2021 champion Martin Leon, “I did not plan on getting this far.”
UGA President Mike Bailey, an avid historian of The Country Club, loves to tell of Kwon’s grandfather, Johnny Miller, producing a chip-in birdie in a qualifying playoff that eventually led to a top-10 finish in the 1966 U.S. Open as a BYU golfer. Johnny Miller is an honorary member of The Country Club, complete with a locker nameplate.
Kwon’s mind went to Todd Miller, his uncle. In 2004, Miller forfeited the State Amateur final match, rather than play on Sunday, under the event’s longtime schedule.
Kwon’s story of the week started with a rough front nine Monday, as he stood 9-over par through eight holes. He birdied three of the last six holes to salvage a 77, which was nearly four strokes better than the 156-player field’s average.
His run of 3s (three birdies, an eagle and par) Tuesday contributed to a 68, giving him the No. 7 seed for match play. None of his first five matches even went to No. 18, and Kwon’s dominant play continued Saturday.
Liechty got within 2 down after four holes in the afternoon. “I was feeling good,” he said. But then he dumped a short approach shot into a bunker, enabling Kwon to win his first of four straight holes.
He won 13 of the 31 holes; Liechty took seven holes, but all he could do was extend the match to No. 13, about the farthest point of the property from Kwon’s house.
That’s where Colin Clawson, the UGA’s Director of Championships & Golf Operations, summarized “an absolutely incredible week.”
Citing “two incredible players,” Clawson told them, “You have treated us to a show. The 125th State Amateur is one that we will never forget.”
So what’s next for these golfers? Kwon, a constant member of the University of California’s tournament lineup for two years, intends to finalize his transfer destination next week. He played with a “Go Cougs” yardage book cover in his back pocket, suggesting a possible move to team up with Todd Miller, BYU’s Director of Golf, who joined Brockbank in following Saturday’s match.
Brad Sutterfield, the 1992 State Am champion, was watching Liechty, who has signed with Sutterfield’s Utah Tech program. First, though, comes a two-year church service mission for the Layton High graduate, who will live at home and be allowed to practice and play golf when he’s not working. That window includes the U.S. Junior Amateur, beginning July 24 in Charleston, South Carolina.