Returned missionary Zac Jones claimed the 2023 West Coast Conference individual golf title and also helped his BYU team secure a spot in the upcoming 2023 NCAA D1 Men’s Golf Championship. Jones served as a missionary in Mexico and Florida before beginning his college golf career at BYU. (Photos courtesy of BYU Athletics)
‘Two-time’ returned missionary/BYU golfer Zac Jones in top form going into NCAA national tourney
The talented Cougar sophomore says the examples of family members have helped him on the golf course — and in the mission field.
By Jason Swensen
24 May 2023
Legions of Latter-day Saint athletes have made the life-changing decision to step away from their respective sports for a season or two to serve a full-time mission.
Brigham Young University golf star Zac Jones made that same “mission choice”: but twice.
After enjoying championship seasons at Utah's Lone Peak High School, winning a national tournament, committing to play for the Cougars and claiming Utah Golf Association Player of the Year honors in 2019, Jones mothballed his golf clubs to fulfill a mission in Mexico.
Elder Jones’ labors in the Mexico Pachuca Mission ended after about nine months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was sent home and formally released.
“So I started playing golf again at full speed,” he told Church Ball Magazine. “I was playing tournaments again — and actually won my first tournament since returning to Utah, the Spanish Oaks Open.”
Two more tournament wins would soon follow.
Then another mission call arrived — this time assigning him to the Florida Orlando Mission. And, once again, he stowed away his golf spikes and answered the call to serve.
“I definitely had a unique experience with coming home from my mission and being released — and then being sent out again.”
Jones would finish his missionary service in the Sunshine State before reporting to BYU for the 2021-22 golf season.
Competing in college golf’s “Big Dance”
Now Jones and his Cougar teammates are counting down the hours to another “unique experience” — competing in this week’s (May 26-31) NCAA D1 Men’s Golf Championship at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The #43-ranked Cougars claimed something of a “Cinderella” bid to the NCAA championship after finishing second in the recent NCAA Morgan Hills Regional Tournament. It will be the fourth time in five years that the BYU's men’s golf squad has competed in the national championship event.
Jones was his team’s low finisher in the Regionals, finishing 1-under-par over three rounds of play. He caught fire early in the final round, carding three birdies on the opening nine.
He is confident he and his teammates can make noise at the NCAA title tourney.
“I’ve been playing well and the team’s been playing well,” he said. “We’re trending upwards and we believe that we can win. …I think we can make a run at it if we can sneak into match play playing well.”
Sophomore golfer Zac Jones, fourth from the right, and his BYU teammates celebrate after “punching their ticket” to the 2023 NCAA D1 Men’s Golf Championships. (Photo courtesy of BYU Athletics)
Regardless of how the Cougars perform in Scottsdale, Jones’ sophomore campaign has been an unqualified success. He began his second season of college golf on a confident high after winning last summer’s Utah State Amateur Championship. Months later, he claimed his first collegiate tournament — the Arizona Thunderbirds Intercollegiate. Then in April he snatched the 2023 West Coast Conference individual title in a sudden-death playoff.
BYU coaches are not surprised by Jones’ hot streak.
“[BYU head coach] Bruce Brockbank and I knew when we signed Zac that we got a player who could win tournaments during his time here,” said BYU director of golf Todd Miller in a BYU release. “His first year coming off his mission was a challenge but it never changed his drive or confidence and we’ve only seen the beginning of a fantastic career. He didn’t have his best stuff at the conference tournament, but still got the job done.
“That is the mark of a great competitor.”
Jones Family traditions: Golf and Missions
One of four boys from a sports-loving family from Highland, Utah, Zac Jones grew up playing a variety of sports. But over time, the Jones boys found themselves spending their free time on the putting greens and fairways of their local golf course.
“During the summer, my brothers and I would spend eight to 10 hours a day at the golf course just practicing and messing around,” he said. “There was never an expectation of, say, playing college golf. It just kind of happened.”
Zac’s older brother, Tyler Jones, plays golf for Utah Tech University. Meanwhile, younger brother Cooper is one of the top-ranked juniors in the world.
“It’s fun to play against each other and talk trash,” said Zac Jones. “We’re super-competitive… We all want to be the best.”
The Jones brothers and their father, Clark, form a collective team of golf cheerleaders/critics. They can lean on one another for honest input, suggestions on how to play a particular course or tournament — or just advice on weathering golf’s ups-and-downs.
“I trust my brothers and my dad because we’ve played together for so long,” said Zac Jones.
Jones also looked to family examples when he was making the tough decision to temporarily step away from golf for missionary service.
“First, I had decided when I was young to serve a mission", he said. “Both of my grandfathers served a mission. My dad served a mission. It was just something that I wanted to do.”
He was also influenced by his brother Tyler’s decision to put golf on hold for a full-time mission in the Philippines. “Just hearing about Tyler’s mission experiences and how much he loved being a missionary really gave me a desire to serve a mission.”
Ultimately, Jones’ choice to become a full-time missionary was personal and prayerful. “I had to take a deep look into the gospel and the Book of Mormon and ask myself if this is really something I believe in.”
Looking back, the BYU golf phenom has no regrets.
“I loved my mission — and I think it actually helped me develop into the golfer that I am today. It took some time to shake the rust off when I came home. But going on a mission was a positive thing.
“I was able to just serve the Lord.”
No surprise, Jones would like to stretch his golf career beyond the college ranks.
“I want to play professional golf — that’s my goal,” he said. “”It is a hard, long route. A lot of really good players have come up short. So for now, I’m just trying to build experience and become one of the best college players in the country.”