Ram Tough – Colorado Golf Association

At age 20, Matthew Wilkinson becomes the second CSU golfer in the last three years to win the CGA Match Play title

By Gary Baines – 06/14/2024

On the eve of possibly his biggest golf victory, Matthew Wilkinson was texting with someone who could certainly relate to his situation.

As the 36-hole final of the 124th CGA Match Play awaited him, the 20-year-old from Lone Tree Golf Club had a back-and-forth with teammate Connor Jones of Colorado State University, who not only won the CGA Match Play won twice years ago, but also claimed the CGA Amateur title and was low amateur in the Inspirato Colorado Open.

“I was texting with Connor last night,” Wilkinson said Friday afternoon. “I thought, ‘Man, I really want to put my name next to yours on the trophy.’ It’s a cool feeling to make that happen.”

Wilkinson capped a run of seven matches – and a total of eight rounds of competitive golf – in six days with a title in the CGA’s oldest championship. He defeated Fossil Ridge Golf Club’s Tyler Tyson – who played college golf at Regis University last season and expects to start at Fort Lewis in the fall – 6 and 5 in a scheduled 36-hole final at historic Lakewood Country Club.

That makes Wilkinson, at the age of 20 years and less than 3 months, the youngest CGA Match Play champion since University of Colorado golfer David Oraee, who was 20 years and less than 1 month when he prevailed in 2013.

“I think that’s cool,” Wilkinson said. “But at the end of the day, it’s golf and everyone plays the same course,” regardless of age.

Wilkinson actually lost one of his seven matches en route to the title, falling to Steve Burak, 2 and 1, in a round-robin pod-play match. But the CSU golfer prevailed in a playoff, winning his pod at CommonGround Golf Course and later advancing to the Lakewood CC portion of the championship.

In Thursday’s quarterfinals, Wilkinson defeated good friend Blake Williams. Then in the semifinals he knocked off a man who recruited him to CSU, 2023 Inspirato Colorado Open runner-up Parker Edens. And on Friday, Wilkinson trailed only briefly – after the sixth and seventh holes of the day – and pulled away back from Tyson at the end of the first 18 and the beginning of the second round.

Wilkinson won four major junior state championships as a teenager – including the inaugural CGA State Junior in 2022 – but the Match Play is in a different category as it is considered one of two CGA open-age majors, along with the CGA Amateur .

Asked about the achievement of winning this week, Wilkinson said: “I’d say it’s up there. Naturally, (open-age) amateur golf is harder than junior golf. There are a lot more high-level guys participating, the ones with a lot of experience. So this is definitely one of the things I have done so far in my golf career.”

Wilkinson hits his tee shot on the par-3 10th hole on Friday.

The soon-to-be CSU junior put together an impressive performance in Friday’s final, finishing unofficially 7 under par through 31 holes, including birdies on his last two. He won the 30th hole with a four-foot birdie, then two-putted the 31st hole (another par-5) for a tie.

“I feel like I’ve seen a lot of progress in hitting and putting the ball over the last few months,” said Wilkinson, who had his father John caddy for him at Lakewood CC. “I was pretty happy with how it went.”

Tyson made it tight for the first 18 holes on Friday. After Wilkinson couldn’t get up and down for par from just over the green on No. 15, the match was tied. But a pair of Tyson bogeys in the morning allowed the longer-hitting Wilkinson to come into the very short break with a two-up lead.

“I definitely stuck with it through the first 18,” said Tyson, a 21-year-old graduate of Arvada West High School. “I played good golf, but made some stupid mistakes. The second 18 there was some fatigue, some bad club choices, some bad swings. I was a little tired.

“But Matt played great. He certainly deserved it.”

Runner-up Tyler Tyson faced his. share hard shots on Friday.

In the second round of the day, Wilkinson won three of the first four holes – with two birdies and a par – to move 5 up. Tyson didn’t get closer than 4 the rest of the way.

“I was happy with my week,” said Tyson, who won six of his seven matches on the week but was a surprise finalist. “I played some good golf this week. I’ll get some momentum out of this, knowing I can do it. Matt is great. (Division I), he’ll probably turn pro (at some point) and kill it there. To know that I can stay on the right course with him… If a course like this suits me, I am certainly capable enough to play.”

So what kicked Wilkinson into high gear when he pulled away from Tyson late in Friday’s first round?

“I said to myself, ‘I’m playing well. I just made some stupid mistakes on the last few holes. Let’s not make any mental mistakes for the rest of the day; try to do that as best as possible. We still have a lot of golf ahead of us.” I feel like this was kind of a turning point,” he said.

And from there he never really looked back.

After all was said and done, Wilkinson was asked how it feels to be a state champion. “Oh God,” he said. “I don’t think it has really sunk in yet. But it feels good.”

Wilkinson’s name will be engraved on the Match Play trophy, along with greats such as Hale Irwin, Steve Jones, Brandt Jobe and Kevin Stadler – and of course Jones.

After the CGA Match Play final, As well as receiving the championship trophy, Wilkinson also received a medal in honor of 2011 champion Michael Lee, who passed away at the end of 2020 at the age of 28 after a battle with Covid-19. John and Amy Lee, Michael’s parents, watched part of Friday’s final and attended the trophy ceremony, with John placing the medal around Wilkinson’s neck. The Lee Medal will be awarded to every CGA Match Play champion between 2021 and 2030.

Michael Lee, a graduate of Greeley Central High School, played his college golf at the Colorado School of Mines, where he was twice named Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Player of the Year. He earned NCAA Division II honorable mention All-American status in 2013 and was inducted into the Colorado School of Mines Oredigger Hall of Fame in 2022. That same year, the Mines Indoor Golf Center was dedicated to Lee’s memory and named in his honor.

“Thank you for giving us the opportunity to honor Mike. We really appreciate it,” John Lee said Friday.

John and Amy Lee established the Michael Ray Lee Foundation in honor of their son and have donated a significant amount of money to various charities in recent years, mainly related to golf. That includes helping fund the Colorado Junior America’s Cup team, a team in which Lee – and later Wilkinson – competed.

“What this family has done in memory of their son is absolutely incredible,” CGA CEO Ed Mate said Friday. “The Greeley community has wrapped its arms around the Lee family: ‘What can we do to remember Michael and ensure we honor his life?’ As sad as it was to lose him at such a young age, wow, what a great cause that created.”

CGA MATCH PLAY

Thursday quarter finals

Parker Edens, Northern Colorado e-Club, def. Luke Cushman, Meridian rankings, 3 and 1

Matthew Wilkinson, Lone Tree WG, def. Blake Williams, Bear Creek rankings, up 1

Tyler Tyson, Fossil Trace WG, def. Westin Pals, TPC Craig Ranch, 2 up

Carson Kerr, Tiara Rado/Lincoln Park def. Gavin Crowley, Columbine CC, 23 holes

Thursday semi-finals

Matthew Wilkinson, Lone Tree WG, def. Parker Edens, Northern Colorado e-Club, 4 and 3

Tyler Tyson, Fossil Trace WG, def. Carson Kerr, Tiara Rado/Lincoln Park, 2 and 1

The planned 36-hole final is on Friday

Matthew Wilkinson, Lone Tree WG, def. Tyler Tyson, Fossil Trace GC, 6 and 5

For all Women’s Matchplay results, CLICK HERE.

About the writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sportswriter at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then sports editor there, and has written regularly for ColoradoGolf.org since 2009. Evans Scholar alumnus of the University of Colorado was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates ColoradoGolfJournal.com