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Ogden • Thirteen months ago, Kelton Hirsch returned from a church mission to Mexico City and promptly shot a 74 at his home course, Oakridge Country Club. For about a month, the Centerville native who shined in golf and basketball at Viewmont High figured the golfing skills and competitive grittiness that had earned him a spot on the BYU golf team before taking two years off had returned more quickly than he thought they would.
Then Hirsch went into a slump, one that lasted seven or eight months and caused him to take a redshirt year at BYU because he couldn't come close to cracking a very good starting lineup that won the West Coast Conference championship last spring.
With the help of his BYU coaches and instructor Clay Ogden, who caddied for him Friday and Saturday, Hirsch rediscovered his game the past few months. He culminated that improbable turnaround by claiming the 119th Utah State Amateur, overwhelming Utah State junior Braydon Swapp 7 and 5 in the 36-hole final at Ogden Golf & Country Club.
"I don't even know how to describe it," said Hirsch, 21. "It was so much fun out there a great week of golf, with a lot of great players out there. For me to come out on top was unlikely. Honestly, I thought I had a chance, but I knew it would take a lot of good golf, and luckily I was able to do that this week."
Hirsch is the third straight BYU golfer to win the prestigious State Am title, and fourth in five years, joining Patrick Fishburn (2016), Jordan Rodgers (2015) and Cole Ogden (2013), Clay's younger brother.
"Hopefully we can keep that rolling," Hirsch said. "We have a great team at BYU, and we were able to recruit some great players. I don't see why we can't keep doing it."
Swapp, a Weber High product from Farr West, was trying to become the first USU golfer to claim the biggest prize in Utah amateur golf since Jason Wight in 1995 at Logan Country Club. The stroke-play medalist was the first Aggie to make it to the finals since 2008, but he ran out of gas against Hirsch after playing marvelously the first five days of the tournament.
"Kelton just played a really good game today," Swapp said. "That first round of golf he played [Saturday morning] was about as good as I've seen out here, bogey-free. I think he shot 4 under. It was really, really good playing. That's just tough to beat."
Trailing by four holes after the first 18 holes of the scheduled 36-hole championship match, Swapp made a mild charge early in the afternoon, and trimmed a 5-down deficit to three with a birdie on the match's 24th hole, the par-5 sixth at Ogden. But he three-putted the par-3 seventh to lose that hole, and was never the same.
"I am proud of the way I played this week and in the way that I fought," Swapp said.
Up by four holes after the gift on No. 7, Hirsch won No. 8 with a birdie and No. 9 with a par and coasted from there.
"When he missed that [short] putt on seven, I think that's when the match swung," Hirsch said. "That's when I really had him beat, probably, just because he got a little down on himself and hit a few rough shots and I made some really good looks."
The match ended on the 31st hole the short par-4 13th at Ogden when Swapp conceded after Hirsch nearly holed his approach from 10 feet in front of the green.
When this week did Hirsch start believing he could win the title?
"As soon as I beat Fishburn on hole 18 [in Friday's semifinals]," Hirsch said. "That was probably the moment where I was like, 'all right, this could be my year.' Before that, I wasn't thinking ahead."
Hirsch said he got a text message from the defending champion he ousted later Friday night, congratulating him for the way he played and wishing him luck in the finals.
"The last couple of months I have really made a turn," Hirsch said. "I have been working really hard to compete. We have a great team up at BYU, and I figured if I don't start working harder, I am not going to have a chance to play. The last two months I have been playing great golf, hitting great shots, making a lot of putts. You can't ask for much more."
After all, for non-professional golfers in Utah, the state amateur trophy is as good as it gets.