BYU golfer Lila Galea’i tops strong field in Utah Women’s Amateur Tournament

Next month’s 116th Utah State Championships Utah Women’s Golf Championships at Ogden Golf & Country Club will see one of the toughest fields in event history, especially if 2020 Champion Grace Summerhays of the Arizona State University women’s golf team plays, as rumored.

But girls and women won’t necessarily chase after the 18-year-old, who took the title two years ago at Soldier Hollow Golf Course.

“The professional at the time, Ken Reed, noticed me and gave me my first set of clubs, and I just went from there. I owe him a lot and East Bay because I’m starting.” Defending Utah Women’s Champion Laila Galle

There was a new champ last year, and BYU women’s golf team Laila Gallei was as frightening as any player in recent memory.

“She’s definitely one of the candidates,” said the woman who lost to Galea’i on 19 holes in last year’s championship game at Oakridge Country Club in Farmington, a freshman student of the Cougars, Berlin Long of Lone Peak High.

Long, her sister Aden, four-time champion Kelsey Chugg and Gallie all played the par-72 layout adjacent to Washington Boulevard in Ogden on Thursday and announced that the course was ready to test the state’s top female players. The tournament begins August 1 with 18 holes eligible for stroke play to determine which 32 lowball players will advance to match play.

The 18-hole championship game will be played on August 4.

Berlin Long, who has won two state 6A singles titles in her Lone Peak career, said winning the championship was “top of the list” on her list of priorities, especially after what happened last year. Galea’i led two holes with two to play, but Galea’i flew 17 and 18 to force a sudden death playoff, then chased after No. 1 in the playoff to take the trophy.

“I think my favorite memories from last year were the last throw against Berlin and how at number 17 my hit fell for Birdy to put me in one place,” Gallie said. “I knew I had a chance at the time, because anything can happen with playing matches.”

Jelei said the win “sort of changed my life” and gave her a “big confidence boost” as her second season at BYU approaches.

“I remember coming to State Am, I kept winning games and I said to my mom, ‘Man, I might have a chance to win this. “She told me to keep doing what I was doing, and finish strong, and that’s what I did. It was really cool.”

Glee’s entire story is fascinating, especially because no one else in her family plays competitive golf. Raymond and Millie Galley have eight children—six girls and two boys—and Layla (who can play the ukulele behind her back, according to her profile at BYUcougars.com) is the only one who takes golf seriously.

Raymond played football at Dixie State, brother Jray played football at BYU and sister Eternity played basketball at BYU.

“We are an athletic family,” Laila said. “We all play sports, from soccer to basketball to volleyball, but I’m the only one who really plays golf.”

After her family moved to Utah County from Kahuku, Hawaii, in 2009, Raymond Gallei took a part-time job shutting down East Bay Golf Course (now Timpanogos Golf Course) in Provo, and little Lily hit balls around the green training courses. And driving with her father’s old clubs while she waits for his shift to end.

“The professional at the time, Ken Reed, noticed me and gave me my first set of clubs, and I just went from there,” she said. “I owe him a lot and East Bay because I’m getting started.”

Leila quickly became a young phenomenon, and in 2017 won the 13-14 year class in a Utah Junior Amateur Championship match, defeating Berlin Long. She is proud of her ability to show the world that people of Pacific descent can thrive in golf, and has listed fellow Polynesian Tony Finau among her champions.

“I mean, golf, it has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of new people. All the people I’ve met in my life, I know I wouldn’t have been able to meet me if I hadn’t played golf,” she said. “Honestly, I just see it as a blessing. Being able to be here is just a blessing.”

A community humbly says they had a “decent” second season at Brigham Young University. She started the 2021-22 season by making her debut for the Dick McGuire Invitational and finished the year with an 11th place finish in the West Coast Conference. She tied for 21st place in the NCAA Franklin (Tennessee) Regional.

Since the college season ended, she’s played at the Southwest Amateur in Arizona and tried to qualify for the American Women’s Amateur in Colorado, missing a few shots. She won the Sizzler Am race at Talking Stick Golf Club in Arizona after a week of playing in the Southwestern Amateur, defeating runner-up Jieming Yang by 13 strokes.

“I was playing well,” she said. “I made some changes on a swing, with the help of coach (Carrie) Roberts at BYU, and others. Nothing important, just working on little things. I am ready (to defend her title in 2021).”

Away from college, a community hopes to play golf professionally and see where it will take it. Her strength lies in her height — she estimates she hits the ball 300 yards from a tee — and her ability to play under pressure, she said.

Her favorite courses are Timpanogos (of course) and Thanksgiving Point.

Quadruple her dream?

“I should definitely go with Tiger Woods,” she said. “Then Michael Jordan, even though he’s not a golfer. I’ve always wanted to play golf with him. Then I would say Tony Finau and Victor Hovland.”

Carrie Roberts, director of golf at BYU, takes a selfie with Lila Galea’i after Galea’i wins the Utah State Women’s Golf Championship against Berlin Long at Oakridge Country Club in Farmington on Thursday, July 1, 2021. Galea’i will return This year’s Women’s Ogden Golf & Country Club to defend her title.

Kristen Murphy, Deseret News

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