ST. GEORGE – Southern Utahn Jay Don Blake may be 54-years-old, but he’s still got a lot of good golf in him. He proved that in a whirlwind 24 hours Sunday and Monday.
Blake, who is a St. George native, survived a grueling 36-hole day to win the St. Louis sectional of qualifying for the U.S. Open by three strokes Monday. North Carolina native Mackenzie Hughes, Blake’s playing partner at the Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis, finished at even par to take second place and also qualify for the Open, which takes place Jun. 13-16 at the Merion Country Club in Ardmore, Pen.
“It’s exciting to be playing with the young boys again,”said Blake, who has been competing almost exclusively on the Senior (Champions) PGA Tour. “This whole year, it’s been kind of frustrating, with some health issues and stuff. But this is very exciting.”
Blake had just finished a Champions Tour tournament in Des Moines, Iowa, Sunday, in which he placed second. The runner-up placing in the Principal Charity Classic may have provided him some momentum as he then jetted to St. Louis for the qualifier.
“I really didn’t feel any fatigue until after it was all over,” he said. “As I was standing there doing interviews it kind of hit me. That’s when the adrenaline and the energy and excitement kind of leave you and you’re standing there like a log.”
After shooting even par in the day’s first 18 holes, Blake was given about a 40 minute break before starting his second round. Something must have clicked on for the Utah state graduate as he tore out to a big lead in second round’s first nine holes. He stroked birdies on the first three holes and five of the first eight to go to five under par. His clostest competitor was at one over, meaning he had a six stroke lead at the turn.
“We probably got a little conservative at that point,” said Blake’s caddie and son-in-law, Cody Andrew. “It hurt him a little bit, thinking about holding the big lead. But he got up and down from a lot of tough places and ended up holding on.”
Blake shot two over in the final nine holes, but it was more than enough to get him a ticket to the U.S. Open and is a fine launching point for the local golfer who has made good on a national level.
“It’s been about the last month or so that I’ve really started to feel good about my swing,” Blake said. “I’ve had some shoulder problems and haven’t been able to swing the way I want. Actually, my swing had been awful. It’s not one thing that’s turned it around, just a lot of hard work, a lot of range balls.”
Blake’s last U.S. Open was 10 years ago at the Olympia Fields Country Club in Chicago. He famously shot a first-round 66 there, but faded in the final three rounds after injuring his neck. He also played in the 2002 Open, placing sixth.
Blake is the oldest golfer ever to win a sectional qualifier and will be the oldest competitor at the U.S. Open this year.
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