Summerhays returns to golf after three-year church mission

Stan Badz/PGA TOUR
Bruce Summerhays has three Champions Tour wins.
September 18, 2013
By Vartan Kupelian, Champions Tour Insider

For three years, Bruce Summerhays checked his passion for golf at the door to answer a different calling.

Summerhays was called on to serve as Mission President supervising missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Tampa. At that point in his life and career, he was ready and eager for the transition.

Summerhays and his wife, Carolyn, were responsible for the health, welfare and training of 228 missionaries in addition to “proselytizing and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.

“It is absolutely marvelous working with young people, ages 18 to 26, and teaching them about their savior Jesus Christ and having them teach it to others,” Summerhays said. “It’s a marvelous experience.”

When his commitment was completed earlier this year, Summerhays, 69, began contemplating his return to the Champions Tour for this week’s Hawaii Pacific Links Championship.

In a professional career that dates back to 1966, Summerhays won three times between 1997 and 2004 on the Champions Tour, where he was a regular for 16 seasons.

Once back home, Summerhays began the process of honing his game at a level necessary to compete on the Champions Tour. He began to play again in mid-August.

“I took a couple of weeks off when we got home,” he said. “Then back into the swing of things. There’s a lot of rust to knock off. It isn’t exactly like riding a bike but pretty much. The swing is still there. I have to get into golf shape.

“People don’t realize how strenuous tournament golf is at the highest levels. You’ve got to be fit or you can’t do it. We’re working on that. Realistically, I’d like to get ready and see. We’ll see if we can be competitive and shoot under par. That’s the goal for me now. Right now, it’s making as many pars as we can with a few birdies. If the putter gets hot, even better.”

Summerhays left to do his mission work after five events of the 2010 Champions Tour season. The mission was near TPC Tampa Bay, a golf course he knows well.

“Actually the TPC course of Tampa Bay was right there, where I qualified for the Senior Tour in 1995,” he said. “I’m very familiar with that area, lots of great golf, but that’s not why I was there.”

Summerhays said he used golf "a few times" for recreation, playing only about 15 times.

“I love golf, as a passion, something I’ll always love,” he said. “I could play every day. (But) it was three years of doing something else and I really didn’t miss (golf). It feels good to come back and play and do all that.”

Summerhays said the youth of today are often criticized for their shortcomings but “these young people are out there doing the work of our savior.

“They’re fantastic young people,” he said. “The women commit to 18 months, the men to two years and we were there for three years, 24/7 Monday through Sunday. We have one day called a preparation day, when we do a few things on our own. I didn’t play that much golf.”

Over the three years, Bruce and Carolyn Summerhays were among 10 senior couples, ages 50 and over, who came in contact with 430 young people.

Summerhays was born in St. Louis and attended the University of Utah before turning professional in 1966. After a distinguished career of almost three decades as a club professional and golf coach at Stanford for a brief time, he made his Champions Tour debut in 1994. As a rookie in 1995, he posted three runner-up finishes.

In 1997, he won the St. Luke’s Classic and the following year added the State Farm Senior Classic. The Kroger Classic in 2004 was the third of his Champions Tour victories.

One of his most memorable victories came at the Utah Open in his adopted home state. After 50 years of trying, he finally captured the title in 2008 at the age of 64.

Now he’s ready to get back to the Champions Tour, what he has described as “a grand adventure.”

“It’s been wonderful to reap the benefits of the Tour experience,” he said. “There are so many fond memories, so many great friends out there – lifelong friends. That’s the whole thing for me, and the competition. When you tee it up on the first tee, just to feel the enlivening that happens to you and the body gets into playing mode. That’s amazing.”

Vartan Kupelian is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.