News & Tours

Stepping up

What’s a 16-year-old girl doing playing in a Korn Ferry Tour Monday qualifier? Getting better

April 16, 2021

Grace Summerhays (Photo courtesy of the AJGA)

Monday qualifiers on the Korn Ferry Tour draw a motley crew of entrants. The 18-hole sprints are an enticing proposition, a potential shortcut on the road to the PGA Tour. Get hot for one day, get a spot in the field. Play well in the tournament, and your career can take off.

Which is why, then, you’ll see your share of up-and-coming hotshots, the recent college grads looking for a bonus start before they roll the dice in Q-school. You’ll also get a few 40-something former PGA Tour pros, searching for places to play as they stew in pre-PGA Tour Champions purgatory. And then there’s the 16-year-old girl, measuring her game against grown men.

Wait, what?

Grace Summerhays was born in July 2004. She swings her driver roughly 97 miles per hour—already faster than the average LPGA Tour pro—and carries it around 230 yards. She knew she’d need to play the round of her life to qualify for this week’s Paiute Las Vegas Championship. Boulder Creek Golf Club, one of the two Monday qualifying sites for the KFT event, measures 7,402 yards from the tips, and Summerhays figured it’d take at least 65 to qualify (64 ended up being the magic number).

And yet there she was, rain gloves on both hands as always, grinding out a six-over 78 and beating eight men.

“Playing junior golf is one thing, against pros and against men it’s all different,” Summerhays said after the round in an interview with Monday Q Info’s Ryan French. “It’s good to try to figure it out and get different experiences and build my game around that.”

Summerhays’ score caught the attention of Max Homa. “Grace is gunna be a problem for many years to come. Unreal,” he tweeted.

“Her dream is to someday play an event against the men, on Tour,” says Grace’s dad and coach, Boyd Summerhays.

If the name sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The Summerhays family is nothing short of a golf powerhouse. Boyd played in 29 PGA Tour events and now coaches Tony Finau, Wyndham Clark and a host of other PGA Tour pros. His brother, Daniel, played eight years on the PGA Tour and finished solo third in the 2016 PGA Championship. Their uncle is former PGA Tour Champions winner Bruce Summerhays. Their grandfather, Grace’s great grandpa, was the head coach at the University of Utah. Grace’s brother, Preston, won the 2019 U.S. Junior and is set to attend Arizona State in the fall.

Grace, Cam, Preston and Boyd Summerhays continue the family's tradition. (Photo courtesy of Boyd Summerhays)

All this to say: Grace has been rubbing shoulders with bigger, stronger, faster players since she began taking the game seriously as an 11-year-old. A year later, at 12, she figured she was ready to try qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open. At 14, she shot 74-72 on a 7,200-yard course to make match play in the Utah State Amateur. Men’s Amateur, that is. (Her brother, Preston, would win the title that week for the second straight year).

So playing in a Korn Ferry Tour Monday qualifier was, in that sense, nothing new. It was also nothing new in the literal sense: She played in one last June, shooting 76 in the Monday for the Utah Championship. And earlier this year, she played the pre-qualifier for the Waste Management Phoenix Open and shot 76.

The week after that pre-qualifier, PGA Tour pro Sam Burns sought out Boyd near the putting green at the Farmers Insurance Open. “Your daughter played with my ex-roommate in that pre-qual,” Burns said, referring to his old teammate as LSU, Philip Barbaree, the 2015 U.S. Junior Amateur winner. “He only beat her by two!”

And it wasn’t that Barbaree played all that bad. Grace finished T-33 in a 66-player field that day.

“The way I coach golf is, the more you seek the uncomfortable, the more comfortable you become,” Boyd says. “That was the biggest thing, with her training with and playing against men when she was young. She’d never be the best. She’d always be chasing. The guys are just better, so she was always super competitive and never shied down from a challenge.

“She’s fearless. She throws herself out there all the time. She’s always playing money games against the guys, so when she does go and compete against the girls—well, she’s never one to be intimidated.”

Clearly not. On April 9, she shot 72-71-71 to win an event on the Cactus Tour, a developmental circuit for women. As you might imagine, she’s won heaps of times playing against girls her own age. Her junior career has gone without a hitch, and she’ll follow her brother to ASU in the fall of 2022.

So why do this? Why play against the men? Why bring that attention on herself?

“There will always be some that say, What’s the point?” Boyd says. “It’s just about her growth and development. She wants to be the No. 1 player in the world in the women’s game someday. And if you want to be the world’s best, you’re going to have to go against the best players in the world. So at a young age, why not put yourself against the best competition you can find?

“When she asked me ‘Dad, can I try to qualify for the men’s state am?’ she’s 14 years old. What am I supposed to say as a dad and a coach?”

The plan isn’t to pack up the truck and chase the Monday dream. Grace will continue to play junior events against girls her age. But she’ll also continue to test herself, to actively seek experiences outside her comfort zone. This isn’t some grand statement about gender. This is an ambitious young girl who wants to play against the best players she can. It’s not all that complicated

“Guys, don’t read too much into this,” Boyd pleads. “She’s just trying to test herself. That’s all she’s doing.”