Deja Vu

Despite big rally, CU men fall just short of title at their own tourney for 2nd straight year; Buffs place 3 in top 6, including Colorado resident Hunter Swanson; CSU’s Matthew Wilkinson also shares 6th

By Gary Baines – 10/3/2023

A year after finishing second — a stroke behind the champion — at their own Mark Simpson Colorado Invitational, the University of Colorado Buffaloes experienced a little deja vu on Tuesday in the same tournament.

CU beat 15 teams at its home course, Colorado National Golf Club in Erie, and rallied to catch the leaders for a period late in Tuesday’s final round.  But San Francisco played the short par-4 17th in a combined 6 under par — with an eagle and four birdies (the eagle and three of the birdies counted toward the team total) — and withstood the 18th hole to emerge with a two-stroke victory over the Buffs.

“Anytime you have a chance to win a golf tournament … it’s just so rare to win a tournament, especially ones that (have large fields),” CU coach Roy Edwards said. “We go 15-1 and you’re disappointed. You know, it’s weird. Today, it was such a monumental comeback. Being in the mix, it probably doesn’t hurt quite as much because we knew what it took to get there was so challenging, and the guys rose to that challenge.”

Indeed, the Buffs came into the final day nine out of the lead, but shot the low final round — an 8-under-par 280 in windy conditions — by seven strokes. But their 17-under-par total for three rounds fell a couple short of the Dons, who are ranked No. 42 in the nation by Golfweek.

“We fought super hard,” said CU junior Justin Biwer, who finished runner-up individually on Tuesday, his best college showing ever. (Biwer was third last year in the Simpson Invite.) “The first day and today we started off super slow. So it shows that we’re resilient and didn’t give up. Obviously it sucks two years in a row finishing second; that’s not great. We come out here and we expect to win every event we play in — especially our home event. This is my third year and we haven’t won an event yet (team-wise). But it’s trending in the right direction that we’re able to bounce back from tough starts and stuff like that. There’s a lot of upside at least.”

The Buffs, coming off a season in which they qualified a team for the NCAA National Championships for the first time since 2002 and finished 21st there, have won or tied for the top team spot in the Simpson Invitational eight times since the tournament was first held in 2010. But their last win in the event came in 2019.

CU’s Justin Biwer (right) finished a college-career-best second on Tuesday, following his third-place showing in the same event last year.

This year, the Simpson Invite featured all five Colorado-based men’s NCAA Division I golf programs. On Tuesday, Colorado State tied for third, Northern Colorado was sixth, Denver 13th and Air Force 17th.

Individually, CU put three players in the top six — a first since 2018 for the program. Biwer, who made it to the round of 16 at the 2022 U.S. Amateur, went 71-68-70 for a 7-under-par total, which left him two strokes behind champion Tobias Jonsson, a senior from Mercer who closed with a 69.

In addition, Denver resident Hunter Swanson, a sophomore, tied for sixth place with CU junior teammate Dylan McDermott, four behind Jonsson. They finished at 5 under par overall, McDermott after a final-round 68 and Swanson after a 71.

For Swanson, a former boys state golfer of the year who plays out of Green Valley Ranch Golf Club, it was his second top-six finish of the fall. He highlighted his Tuesday round of 71 with a 40-yard hole-out for eagle on the par-5 12th hole.

“I didn’t play too good at the start of qualifying (prior to the season),” Swanson said. “But I played well in the (Maui Jim Individual event, fifth place) and I played well at New Mexico (18th place) and I had a pretty good finish here. So I think the game is trending. It feels good.”

Colorado resident and CSU golfer Matthew Wilkinson recorded his best college finish on Tuesday, a tie for sixth.

Also tying for sixth place on Tuesday was Centennial resident Matthew Wilkinson, a Colorado State sophomore, who along with Swanson was one of Colorado’s top junior golfers during his high school years. Wilkinson rebounded with a first-round 76 with scores of 68-67. On Tuesday, he made seven birdies, including two stretches of three in a row. He chipped in for birdie twice from about 20 yards in round 3. The showing was a college career best for the Arapahoe graduate.

“It’s probably the best ball-striking tournament I’ve had in a long time,” he said. “To shoot 5 under with the way I putted all week was pretty good. I hit it good and I stayed persistent. I didn’t let anything really affect me. I shot 4 over the first round. I was 4 under yesterday (afternoon) and 5 under today.

“I’m moving in the right direction.”

Dylan McDermott was one of three Buffs to place in the top six on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Biwer had an unusual performance for someone who finished in second place. Both in round 1 and 3, he was 3 over par for his first seven holes, yet he battled back to post under-par rounds — 71 on Monday and 70 on Tuesday.

“I started off super poorly” in both cases, he said. “I can be upset that I didn’t shoot lower but the fact that I was able to come back the way I did was a huge thing for me. I’m at least proud of myself for that. It sucks not being able to finish it (for the victory), but I’m at least happy I gave it a run.”

It was Biwer’s third straight top-20 showing to start the season.

Besides placing three players in the top six — out of a field of 100 — rounding out CU’s team scorers were freshman Brandon Knight (26th place) and junior Frederik Eisenbeis (68th).

“Justin, Hunter and Dillon, they’ve been great leaders for us all year. They’re just great players,” Edwards said. “And the rest of the team had some good moments. Brandon Knight is really fighting hard. He’s doing a lot of good stuff. For a freshman, that’s always challenging.

“San Francisco is one of the best teams in the country, so to be right there with them is a testament to the guys and where they’re at. It just wasn’t quite enough. 

“To get to the next level — I feel like we’re getting close — we’ve got to get the rest of the team a little bit better. Once we do that, we’re going to take off.”

For all the scores from the Simpson Invite, CLICK HERE.

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