PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – The Utah Open week started on Monday at the Riverside Country Club in Provo. Pro-Ams run through Thursday, and the tournament proper runs Friday through Sunday.
But one of the highlights of the week took place Monday afternoon, the Special Olympics Short Game Challenge.
The short game challenge pairs a Special Olympics athlete with celebrity for a 9-hole chipping and putting contest. And it’s hard to tell who loves it more.
Annie Fisher of the Utah Section PGA said it’s one of the best events they stage.
“All of our different celebrities say this is our favorite part of the week,” she said. “The joy and the hugs, and our sponsors love it. They love having the athletes here. Their hugs are pure joy, it just means so much to all of us.”
Utah Frist Lady Abby Cox was one of the celebrities participating, and she loved it.
“There’s nothing more joyful, nothing more fun than being out here with our friends that have all different abilities,” she said.
Darci Olsen is the head professional at Glenmoor Golf Course, and some of the athletes participating in the Short Game Challenge came from the Special Olympics program she started at her course.
“They loved it,” Olsen said. “Their parents, siblings and family members were here to come cheer them on over on the sidelines, cheering for them. They loved it. It was so fun.”
Veteran golf writer Kurt Kragthorpe has participated in the Short Game Challenge every year since it’s inception, and enjoys it every year.
“Just the vibe of the whole competition,” Kragthorpe said. “I think the greatest myth is that Special Olympic athletes are just in it to have a good time. They do have a good time, but they care about winning too, and I think the combination is perfect.”
The competition is fierce, even if the rules are not always clear, everyone had fun.
“It was a blast”, said First Lady Cox. “But we thought the highest score was going to win, but it turns out, it was the lowest, but we had fun.”
“What becomes more and more evident over the years is that these athletes are very competitive,” Kragthorpe added. “They’re very forgiving of their partners, but they also have expectations for how we perform, and I feel as much pressure in this as in anything I do.”
Special Olympic athlete Chris Briseno loves to be a part of this event.
“The best part, is the nice weather, meeting golfers, the PGA putting this on for us, good coverage, and it’s fun making putts,” he said.”
On Sunday, the Utah Section PGA will present a check the Utah Special Olympics for $50,000 from the money raised at the Siegfreid and Jensen Utah Open.