‘Everyone wants him on their team’; talented local golfer simply enjoys being on the course

CEDAR CITY — Although temporarily sidelined for a few weeks following recent arthroscopic knee surgery, Cedar City golfer Afa Vasi is about to make his way back onto the course.

Afa Vasi during a charity scramble tournament sponsored by the Rotary Club, Cedar City, Utah, May 8, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

The 49-year-old Vasi, who has a reputation for being one of Southern Utah’s most talented and most well-liked amateur golfers, said he plans to compete in the Bloomington Amateur Championship in St. George this weekend, May 31-June 1.

The following weekend, he plans to compete in the Leavitt Group Cedar City Amateur at Cedar City’s Cedar Ridge Golf Course on June 7-8. Then, the next Saturday, June 14, he and his teammates will try to win a second straight gold medal at the annual Larry H. Miller Utah Summer Games in Cedar City.

“I’ll most likely be working nights and playing the tournament on days,” Vasi told Cedar City News. “Not much sleep! I used to do it all the time when I was younger, but not very good at it now.”

When asked if he would be playing this weekend, the self-deprecating Vasi said jokingly, “Well, I’ll be there. Not sure about playing. Knee still kinda sucks.”

At a recent Rotary Club-sponsored charity scramble tournament held at Cedar Ridge on May 8, Vasi and the other three members of his foursome – Cameron Brooks, Jason Robb and Daniel Bishoff – combined for a respectable score of 61, tying them for third place, just two strokes off the winning team’s score.

“He’s genuinely one of the best guys I know. And, he’s one of the best golfers I know,” Cedar Ridge golf pro Jared Barnes said of Vasi. “He’s self-taught. He doesn’t do it the way everyone else does it, but he gets it in the hole better than anyone I know. He’s a gentleman. Everyone wants to play with him. He’s a winner.”

L-R: Daniel Bishoff, Jason Robb and Afa Vasi watch teammate Cameron Brooks putt during a charity scramble tournament sponsored by the Rotary Club, Cedar City, Utah, May 8, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“I guarantee you, today, he probably had eight different guys calling him to be on their team, because everyone wants him on their team,” Barnes added as he waited in the clubhouse for the Rotary tournament to finish.

The very next day, on May 9, Vasi went in for his scheduled surgery, a procedure that cleaned out the joint in his left knee and kept him off his feet for a week or so.

A native of Tonga, Vasi said he had not seen anyone play golf until he was 21 years old and in New Zealand, serving a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“That’s where I saw people playing golf. What is this game? You know, it seems like it’s pretty interesting,” Vasi recalled, adding that he himself didn’t play any golf until after he was married. He met his future wife Michele, a native of Kanab, while they were both attending college at Brigham Young University’s Hawaii campus.

It was during the couple’s honeymoon in Mount Pleasant, Utah, that Vasi said he was invited to play golf by two of his new brothers-in-law.

“They said, ‘Hey, we’re playing golf at 6:30 in the morning. You want to come over?’ And I said, ‘Oh yeah, I’d love to try that game.’”

Vasi said even though his wife’s relatives tried to show him how to hold a club properly, he didn’t like the way it felt in his hands. A natural right-hander, Vasi said he switched his grip to hold the club like most left-handers do, while still swinging right-handed.

“I hold the club the opposite way, like a left-hander golfs,” he explained. “They showed me the right way, but I didn’t like it. So I thought, ‘Can I just do it like this because it’s more comfortable?’ And then, I just started hitting the ball. I actually don’t remember missing the ball at all.”

Afa Vasi, a right-hander who grips the club with his hands opposite the usual position, prepares to hit the ball during a charity scramble tournament sponsored by the Rotary Club, Cedar City, Utah, May 8, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Although Vasi had an immediate knack for hitting accurate long drives and approach shots, his short game took longer to refine, he noted.

“When I started, I just hit the ball everywhere I’m looking, but when I get it to the green, I putted across the green,” he recalled, adding that he then focused his attention on perfecting his chipping and putting skills.

Now, having just turned 49, Vasi has been golfing for most of his adult life. He has long been and still is a scratch golfer, meaning his handicap is zero and he is expected to shoot par or better on every hole.

Vasi said he initially had a five-stroke handicap early in his playing career, but after playing for a couple years with Richard Church and John Evans in the late 1990s, he was able to improve his game and get it into plus-handicap territory.

His impressive resume includes numerous wins in amateur tournaments and events, both individually and in team play.

“It’s been pretty fun. I’ve met a lot of good people playing golf,” Vasi said, rattling off the names of several of his longtime golfing buddies, including Shawn Glover, Martin Anderson, Mike Sweet, Caden Hamill, Brandon Lyon Nick Killpack, Ryan Bolton and Brian Virgin.

Making time for golf is not always easy for Vasi, who works full-time as an operator at a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Cedar City, usually working graveyard shifts. He and Michele are the parents of four children.Their two sons Tevan and Jackson are both adults now, while their older daughter Malia recently graduated from Canyon View High, where her younger sister Lili will be a sophomore next year.

Afa Vasi pays for an in-match competition ticket during a charity scramble tournament sponsored by the Rotary Club, Cedar City, Utah, May 8, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Vasi said that although none of his children have developed their father’s intense love for golf, they have seen success in various other sports and activities, including football and softball.

“Whatever they decide to do, you just gotta be there for them and support them,” he said, adding that his son Jackson has taken up a recent interest in golfing.

“He’s not very good yet, but he’s working on it,” Vasi said.

Vasi also mentioned the recent performance of Utahn Tony Finau in the prestigious Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, in mid-April. The 29-year-old Finau finished 11 strokes under par, tying him for fifth overall and winning just over $400,000. The Masters was won by 43-year-old Tiger Woods, who had first inspired Finau to take up the sport as a young child.

Vasi said he knows the Finau family well and remembers playing with Tony Finau and his younger brother Gipper when the boys were youngsters growing up in Salt Lake City.

“They have a Polynesian club up north, and I used to go up and play every year,” Vasi recalled. “I’d go up and visit them and then play with them. But when the kids were young, they were my competition. They were pretty good as teenagers, but I’ve probably known them since they were 9, 10 years old.”

Vasi said he watched the Finau brothers get progressively better each year.

“Every year, they (were) kind of getting closer to me and then, all of a sudden, they just started hitting it farther than me,” he said.

Afa Vasi drives the ball off the tee during a charity scramble tournament sponsored by the Rotary Club, Cedar City, Utah, May 8, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“I remember the last year we played together (with Tony) as an amateur, him and Gipper,” Vasi recalled. “We played at Thanksgiving Point. That was their home course, the one up north that we played on in a Polynesian tournament that we played every year.

“So the first day we were all paired up: me, Gipper and Tony in the same group. And the first day Gipper shot like one or two over, I can’t remember, but I know Tony shot even par. And I shot two under. So, we came into the second day, and I can’t remember, but Gipper wasn’t playing too good. I shot seven under that day, but Tony shot 10 under and beat me by one. I think that was the last time they played an amateur event with us.”

Vasi said he has enjoyed following Tony Finau’s professional career.

“I’m so proud of that kid,” he said. “I believe that kid was just destined for greatness, at just a young age. He’s a good kid, you know, I just love that kid.”

Ultimately, golf is not really about numbers, scores or money, Vasi said.

“It’s just about going out there and having fun with your buddies.”

Just as it was last year, the Utah Summer Games tournament on June 14 will be a four-person scramble event, meaning each team takes the best ball from each of the four shots and the players all hit in turn from that spot. Scheduled to play in Vasi’s foursome that day are Shawn Ekker, Jon Smith and Kirt Rosenberg.

The Utah Summer Games tournament, which attracted nearly two dozen teams last year, is a community event open to people of all skill levels. For more information, click here.

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Email: jrichards@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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