Two Sunday nights ago, Daniel Summerhays and his wife, Emily, finally settled into their home outside Salt Lake City, Utah, the buzz of his runner-up finish in the Korn Ferry Tour’s Utah Championship beginning to subside. They looked at each other.
“We had it all planned out. What did I go and do?” Summerhays said.
The Utah Championship was to have been Summerhays’ final event on the Korn Ferry Tour, a home-state sendoff to a solid career that included a third-place finish in the 2016 PGA Championship. Then he almost won while saying goodbye, shooting 62 on Sunday to get into a playoff.
At age 36 with four children and a dream of teaching and coaching high school kids, Summerhays found himself not necessarily at the end of a road but at a crossroads of his own creation.
To stick to his plan to walk away or allow the game to pull him back in, understanding he’s close enough to the Korn Ferry Tour’s top 25 that a return to the PGA Tour down the road isn’t out of the question. To retire from full-time competition or not.
“It’s like if you have a status bar on a computer, it’s still thinking,” Summerhays said last week after missing the cut at the TPC Colorado Championship, a last-minute addition to his schedule after his runner-up finish in Utah.
The fact Summerhays added another event following his celebrated week in Utah suggests he’s decided to continue playing, but the extra event was a matter of convenience. The family was on its way from Utah to Missouri for a vacation and stopping in Colorado didn’t require a major rerouting.
Thirteen years ago, Summerhays faced another big decision. A two-time Utah State Amateur champion and a first-team All-American at Brigham Young University, Summerhays became the first amateur to win a Nationwide (now Korn Ferry) Tour event.
Summerhays faced a decision of whether or not to return for his senior year at BYU. He chose to turn pro.
“You have those decisions as a professional golfer and you stay up late at night trying to figure them out,” Summerhays said. “It’s nice to have opportunities and feel like you can still play good golf.”
For a while now, Summerhays has felt the tug to do more than focus on his golf game and that is what led him to his original decision to retire. Well, not exactly retire …
“I’m still young at 36 but sometimes I feel old. In any other professional sport, if you’ve been doing it for 13 or 14 years, you would think that you would be out of the game but in professional golf, it’s up to you.” – Daniel Summerhays
“Retirement is a strange word,” Summerhays said. “I’m still intending to play some local pro events but I didn’t want to have to go through Monday qualifying or ask for sponsor exemptions into tournaments.
“I’m still young at 36 but sometimes I feel old. In any other professional sport, if you’ve been doing it for 13 or 14 years, you would think that you would be out of the game but in professional golf, it’s up to you.”
Rather than focus on what Rory McIlroy is doing or how Bryson DeChambeau has reshaped himself and his game, Summerhays has found himself studying people who chose a different path when they were successful. Though he hasn’t spoken to her, Summerhays appreciates how Lorena Ochoa walked away from competitive golf when she was at the top of the world.
“It’s interesting to have status and access and to not play,” Summerhays said. “You’re expected to go chase it. I’ve chased it for a long time and I know the effect it’s had on me, the time I’ve been away, the wear and tear on my body.”
Summerhays said he has taken multiple personality tests and they told him what he already knew – he’s a learner and a teacher. He’s never formally taught in a classroom but he’s drawn to the notion of working with teenagers and young adults.
He has an understanding of sports marketing, entrepreneurship and physical education that he intends to share with the students at Davis High School, where he also coaches the golf team.
A couple of weeks ago, Summerhays’ decision had been made. Then life – or golf – complicated it. He’s given himself a couple of weeks to finalize his plans but he keeps coming back to what he wants to do next.
“I’ve looked at people who have had a choice and taken a different route. That’s what I’m leaning toward,” Summerhays said.
Recently, Summerhays said his 10-year-old son asked him a question:
“He said to me, ‘Dad, do most players as time goes on just get worse and play bad and then retire?’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s kind of how it works,’ ” Summerhays said.
But not always.
Top Photo: Michael Cohen, Getty Images
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