ST. GEORGE — Kyla Smith of St. George put together four solid days at the 113th annual Utah State Women’s Amateur golf tournament held earlier this week at Logan Country Club.
Smith’s semifinal performance pushed eventual tournament winner Kerstin Fotu to the limit. Fotu is an incoming freshman who will be playing golf for Brigham Young University, while Smith is soon to be a senior at Southern Utah University.
The pair alternated taking one-hole leads through 14 holes where they were all-square in the match-play format through hole 16. A rare bogey by Smith gave Fotu the lead, after which Fotu closed out the match with a birdie on the final hole.
The four-day event started Monday and concluded on Thursday.
Smith played well enough in the qualifying rounds to earn a 12th seed into match play. Her opening rounds of 78 and 76 put her in a tie for 10th place. She lit up the course in her first two rounds of match play, defeating Carissa Graft with an eagle and four birdies, including a 40-foot birdie putt on the seventh hole. Smith closed out Graft 6 and 5 on the 13th hole. Smith finished her final three rounds shooting a combined 2-under par.
In her quarterfinal match, Smith matched up against Abbey Porter, an incoming freshman who will be playing golf for Dixie State University this year. Porter jumped out, winning the first two holes before Smith came roaring back to win holes 4 and 5 then closed out the match by winning consecutive holes 13–15 to win, 4 and 3.
Of the four semifinalists joining Smith, Laura Gerner of Kaysville and eventual winner Kerstin Fotu had all played Junior America’s Cup together, with Smith in the 2015 America’s Cup championships in Wyoming. The three all grew up playing UJGA and other junior golf tours together and have a lot of respect for each other.
“It was so fun playing against Kerstin,” Smith said afterwards. “Seeing Laura (Gerner) and a number of other girls from our junior years was a lot of fun.”
She said her peers are “all very talented golfers.”
“We get along really well.”
Fotu ended up edging out 15-year-old Grace Summerhays, a standout junior golfer who resides both in Arizona and Utah, defeating Summerhays 1-up in the final match.
Joining Smith from SUU’s squad were teammates Poy Prasurtwong, Lexie Hamel, Launa Wilson and Tori Thomas. Unfortunately, Hamel disqualified herself after she discovered she signed her scorecard with a wrong score for one of the holes. Hamel went on to caddie for Smith and was a source of inspiration for her.
“I am grateful that Lexie wanted to caddie for me,” Smith said, adding that she admired Hamel for doing the right thing by reporting the miscue on her scorecard and then offering to caddie for her.
Wilson and Prasurtwong both made match play, with Wilson defeating Tara Oglesby 3 and 1 before losing to Fotu 8 and 7. Prasurtwong lost a close match to Naomi Soifua in the round of 16.
Smith, a former star at Desert Hills High School, helped the Lady Thunder to four consecutive state golf championships before graduating in 2016.
Smith is one of very few SUU players to have played in every single golf event for the university and has the fourth best all-time scoring average in the history of the SUU women’s golf program, said her father, DHHS tennis coach David Smith.
During her junior year at SUU, Kyla Smith put together some of her best rounds, finishing with two consecutive top-10 invitational finishes and gaining a world ranking. However, she was reportedly disappointed in her final few matches of the season and has fought through a period of difficulty in finding her rhythm and confidence.
“The State Am proved to be a shot in the arm for her confidence,” her father said.
“I played okay in the qualifying rounds, but played perhaps the best golf of my life in the match-play rounds, especially in my first two rounds against Graft and Porter,” Kyla Smith said.
She said she loves match-play format and has reached or won several lower-level tournaments, including the Utah State Junior’s, where she lost by one hole to eventual winner Jessica Sloot in the semifinals.
Next up for Smith, along with many of the other golfers who competed this week, is the Utah Women’s Open Golf championships Monday and Tuesday at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi.
Smith said she hopes to continue to strike the ball and putt as well as she did this week at the State Am.
“I’m feeling so much better about my game right now. I’ve worked hard this summer to find my game again. It’s nice to see some results,” she said.
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