MIDWAY -- When the Utah State Amateur begins this morning at Soldier Hollow Golf Course, it will again feature a field twice the size of a typical year for the top men's tournament in the state.
That's because there are two courses to use today and Thursday, as the field of 288 is whittled to a match play group of 32. Sure, the math shows it's even harder to get to Friday's first round -- more competition for the same number of annual spots -- but it also sparks a lot more possibilities.
Each golfer will have one round on the tougher gold course, then another 18 on the silver, over the next two days. The latter loop won't be part of match play, but it could be sterling when it comes to separating contenders from pretenders along the way, with six challenging par-3 holes.
The lowest 32 scores -- including tiebreakers to be settled likely in the dusk of Thursday -- will move on.
This is the 113th consecutive State Am, and also one of the more intriguing years in recent memory.
That's because some of the big names expected to fare well (including defending champions) will not be around.
Joe Parkinson, then a recent Lone Peak High who came out of nowhere to win last year at his home course (Alpine), is on an LDS Church mission.
The previous champion, BYU's Zac Blair, will be participating at a national event.
Parkinson's absence is especially noteworthy, because it means there is no "automatic" bid granted into Friday's match play. All 32 spots are officially up for grabs.
There are eight former champions in the field: Steve Borget (1985); Doug Bybee (1990, 1991, 1996); Jason Wight (1995); Todd Barker (1997); Darrin Overson (1998); Gregg Oliphant (2002); Tommy Sharp (2003); and Dan Horner (2008), who won it when it was last held at Soldier Hollow.
Horner defeated Devin Daniels in extra hole. Daniels has since turned pro.
Soldier Hollow also played host in 2006, when one-time teenage phenom Tony Finau defeated then-BYU golfer Daniel Summerhays.
The course has become a staple of the Utah Golf Association's marquee event because of how it opens up participation. A typical year with 144 bids available will get about 400 golfers vying for this spots at local tournaments. During a Soldier Hollow year, about 600 men are trying, according to head pro Chris Newson.
He will get to use the event not only as a state showcase, but as a national tune-up. The most important amateur event in state history will be held July 12-17, 2012, when the U.S. Publinks is introduced on the Gold Course.
While veterans like Horner, Bybee and Kirk Siddens are always dangererous once match play begins, a group of up-and-comers from the Top of Utah figure to challenge for the 32 final spots.
The group includes Devon Purser, Bradon Kida, Cole Ogden, Patrick Fishburn and Brennan Coburn, who were playing high school golf a year ago.
Ogden recently won the Hill Air Force Base Amateur last week, topping many of the top golfers entered this week. He shot a 66 to edge Stu Gold by a shot. Ogden also won the Glen Eagle qualifier early in June, with Purser and Fishburn also among the leaders.
Coburn claimed medalist honors at the Birch Creek qualifer, shooting a 67. Jeff Evans won the Green Spring qualifier in Southern Utah, while Brady Stanger topped the qualifiers at TalonsCove.