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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah isn’t normally associated with being a farm ground for professional golfers.
With cold, harsh winters and a relatively low number of golf courses, it would seem top golfing prospects are not coming out of Utah.
But that isn't always the case.
Utah is home to two of the top high school golfers in the nation — Zach Jones of Lone Peak High School and Cole Ponich from Davis High School. Ponich is ranked 24th in the AJGA national rankings, while Jones is ranked 110th.
The two began hitting balls at a young age. Jones' golf experience started about age 4, when his dad took him to a driving range. He didn't play on an actual course until he was about 10 and did not play in his first tournament until he was 11, which he won.
Ponich started golfing even earlier, starting as a toddler.
“I started golfing when I was 18 months, just hitting plastic balls in our house and stuff, and then I started hitting real balls when I was about 3, started tournaments when I was 5,” Ponich said.
Both players' love of golf caused them to spend an increased amount of time on golf courses. Jones’ love of golf prompted his family to move closer to a golf course to avoid the hassle of driving him there all the time.
“We moved up to Highland to be closer to the golf course, so that they (Zach and his older brother) could walk out," said Zach’s father, Clark Jones. "And then they had practice buddies, so they could go up there together all the time.
“We bought an old house back to one of the holes so they could walk to the short game area right from our back yard.”
This allowed to Zach to start golfing all of the time, which he continues to do today.
“In the summer, I golf six days a week, and I’m up there from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. - 7 p.m.," Jones said. "I’m up there pretty much every day all day in the summer.”
Long days like this have helped Jones and Ponich become the two leading golfers for their respective schools.
Ponich is the No. 1 golfer for Davis High School and Jones is the No. 1 golfer for Lone Peak High School. These two schools are two of the 6A high school golfing powerhouses.
Ponich won the 6A state title this year, finishing with an overall score of 133 — six points lower than Jones’ second-place finish of 139.
Ponich’s strong showing helped lead Davis High to the state title, defeating Jones’ Lone Peak squad. Even though Ponich took the individual state title, his favorite part was winning as a team.
“The coolest part about it was not winning the individual, but the team was definitely the coolest part,” Ponich said. “Because we weren’t favored to win at all, we didn’t even win region, it was pretty sweet to get the team aspect done, but the individual just kind of came along with it.”
This dethroned Jones and his Lone Peak Knights from another state title, as they had won the previous four team state titles.
Jones' and Ponich's golfing rivalry has extended beyond the state tournament. The two have battled each other frequently over the last few years in other tournaments.
While Ponich has the higher national ranking, Jones has the higher ranking in the Utah Golf Association player performance rankings. Jones is ranked sixth in the player performance rankings, while Ponich is ranked 15th. This is partially due to the fact that Ponich has only played in seven events compared to Jones’ 13.
All of the competition between these two golfers could cause them to dislike each other, but that is not the case, as they are close friends.
“Cole’s also one of my best friends and we play a lot of golf together, but we like to compete against each other and beat each other every time,” Jones said.
“It’s hard to call mine and Zach’s relationship a rivalry, because we’re such good friends,” Ponich said. “I mean, I guess it’s a rivalry on the course, but it’s just fun because even though we know we’re back and forth a lot and have competed with each other a lot, we’re still super good friends, even if we’re both six under at the same time with a hole left.”
The two friends' golf careers could continue at the college level either as teammates or playing against each other for opposing schools.
Ponich will play for BYU after he graduates in 2019. He verbally committed to sign with the Cougars last fall, after initially committing to UCLA.
Ponich made the switch for a number of reasons, but one of the major ones was that he believed going to BYU would be the best way he could make it onto the PGA Tour.
“I just really like the coaches at BYU and realize they’ve done a great job at helping guys get to the PGA Tour,” Ponich said. “So that was probably the biggest part to me is just realizing how many guys they produce to the PGA Tour and what was going to give me the best help to get there.
“Because a lot of making it on the PGA Tour is not on your own, you have to have help along with it.”
Jones has not yet decided where he wants to play, but has listed BYU as one of his top schools.
“I want to play college golf for sure, that’s always been my goal, I haven’t decided where I want to play yet,” Jones said. “I’m still kind of looking at the colleges. I’ve kind of narrowed it down to three schools. I’m looking at BYU, ASU and Utah.”
We will see if these two golfers team up together at BYU and we will see if they can become part of the greats that have come from BYU such as Johnny Miller, Bobby Clampett, Mike Weir, Buddy Allin, Mike Reid and many more.
Even if they don't team up in college, Ponich and Jones have the potential to go on and do great things in their golf careers.