Why a Latter-day Saint golf pro is stepping from the links to focus on family, Church service

Good luck finding a Latter-day Saint outside the General Authority ranks who has worshipped in a wider range of sacrament meetings over the past decade than Daniel Summerhays.

The pro golfer/returned missionary and his young family have dropped in on Sunday services at hundreds of Church buildings across the globe — from wards in Portland, Oregon, and Jackson, Mississippi, to Sabbath Day gatherings in New Zealand and the Dominican Republic.

“If I had an 11 a.m. tee time, we would find a ward meeting at 9 a.m.,” Summerhays told the Church News. “Sometimes we could only stay for the sacrament, and then jet off. But a lot of times we’ve been able to enjoy all of sacrament meeting. And more times than not, my wife and the kids would brave a new Relief Society and Primary.

“We’ve met amazing Saints all around the world … and that’s the joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

But after 13-plus years of living the itinerant, “on to the next tournament” grind of a professional golfer, Summerhays is retiring. He and his family — wife, Emily, and their four children (Jack, 12; Patton, 10; William, 8; and Lydia, 5) will soon be living a far more traditional Latter-day Saint lifestyle in Kaysville, Utah.

The Summerhays family (from left, top) Jack, 12; William, 8; Daniel and Patton, 10. (Seated) Emily and Lydia, 5.
The Summerhays family (from left, top) Jack, 12; William, 8; Daniel and Patton, 10. (Seated) Emily and Lydia, 5. Credit: Courtesy of Summerhays family

The lifelong member has enjoyed a successful professional career highlighted by an unforgettable 2016 season that included top-8 finishes in a pair of golf’s major tournaments — the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open.

But Summerhays, 36, says now is the right time to move on. This week’s Utah Championship may be his final professional tournament.

For starters, the younger guys ascending the ranks of pro golf “are bigger, faster and stronger than me,” he said, modestly. “I’m just not as good as I need to be to play at the highest level week after week.”

But Summerhays is also eager to step away from the sport’s grueling travel schedules. He’s had his fill of airports, hotels, rental cars and take-out dinners. “Physically, it’s very demanding — I can definitely feel it in my body.”

Most importantly, he’s excited to spend more time with Emily and their growing children while serving in his ward and community.

Stowing the clubs for missionary service

Daniel Summerhays hails from the Church’s “first family” of golf. 

Older brother Boyd is a former fellow PGA Tour player and his uncle, Bruce Summerhays, enjoyed a successful run on the PGA’s professional senior golf circuit before serving as a mission president in Florida. Cousin Carrie Summerhays Roberts, a former LPGA player, coaches the BYU women’s golf team.

Prior to the 2017 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, teammates Daniel Summerhays and Tony Finau sat down to play a PGA TOUR edition of The Newlywed Game. Credit: PGATOUR.com

But despite his remarkable “links lineage,” golf has always been something that Summerhays does — it’s not who he is. His testimony offers eternal perspectives that reach beyond tournaments and paydays. So at an age when most rising teenage golfers are putting the final accents on their game, Summerhays stuffed his clubs into a closet to answer a full-time call to the Chile Santiago West Mission.

He had always planned to serve a mission. His parents were supportive, but some in the golf community emphatically told him that he was jeopardizing his career. “There was opposition, but I never really wavered because a mission was something I wanted to do.”

For two years, “I never put my hands to a rubber grip on a club.” (He admits to taking occasional practice swings whenever a broomstick was handy.)

A full-time mission won’t improve a golfer’s iron game or his or her driving length of the tee, but Summerhays believes he learned priceless lessons in patience and hard work while serving in Chile. Within six months of returning home, he was back to his pre-mission level of play.

“My improvement in golf was exponential,” he said. “I’ll never regret my decision to serve a mission. I still have lifelong friends from Chile and mission companions that I’m still in touch with.”

Following an All-American college career at BYU, Summerhays was ready to showcase his talents in the stressful, high-profile world of pro golf. But he’s never felt the need to categorize his athletic ambitions apart from his devotion to the Church and his family.

Daniel Summerhays on the seventh fairway during the second round of The Players Championship golf tournament Friday, May 12, 2017, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
Daniel Summerhays on the seventh fairway during the second round of The Players Championship golf tournament Friday, May 12, 2017, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Credit: AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

“The professional golf scene is not necessarily conducive to gospel living,” he admitted, but quickly adds his personal convictions have always been respected by his fellow golfers.

“Not a round has gone by where I haven’t been able to share something about my faith in the Savior and my beliefs. Everyone has been kind and understanding.”

Summerhays will be happy to be away from the daily bustle and travel of professional golf, but he will miss the thrill of teeing up a ball on the first day of a tournament with hopes of seeing his name atop the leaderboard. 

“I love to compete,” he said, laughing. “Whether it’s shuffleboard or a game in the backyard, I’m always trying to figure out how to win.”

Focus on family, Church and community service

The word “retire” seems an inaccurate term for athletes such as Summerhays who are simply stepping away from the pro ranks. He’s still a relatively young man. His future opportunities are plentiful.

He plans to teach and coach golf at his alma mater, Utah’s Davis High School. “I’m excited to help impact the lives of the youth in my area.”

And as a member of the Smith Lane Ward, Kaysville Utah West Stake, he’s also eager to serve in the Church.

Pro golf doesn’t allow for many callings. “But now I feel a great need and desire to serve in the Church and make a week-to-week impact and take the sacrament each week in my home ward.”