Ram Tough

At age 20, Matthew Wilkinson becomes 2nd CSU golfer in last 3 years to win CGA Match Play title

By Gary Baines – 6/14/2024

On the eve of potentially his biggest victory in golf, Matthew Wilkinson texted with someone who could certainly relate with his situation. 

With the 36-hole final of the 124th CGA Match Play awaiting him, the 20-year-old from Lone Tree Golf Club had a back-and-forth with Colorado State University teammate Connor Jones, who not only won the CGA Match Play two 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 was like, ‘Man, I really want to put my name next to yours on the trophy.’ It’s a cool feeling to get that done.”

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

With that, at the age of 20 years and less than 3 months, Wilkinson becomes 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 did lose one of his seven matches en route to the title, falling in a round-robin pod-play matchup to Steve Burak, 2 and 1. But the CSU golfer prevailed in a playoff to win his pod at CommonGround Golf Course and later advance to the Lakewood CC portion of the championship. 

In Thursday’s quarterfinals, Wilkinson beat good friend Blake Williams. Then in the semifinals he knocked off a guy 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 from Tyson at the end of the first 18 and the beginning of the second round.

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

Asked to rank the accomplishment of winning this week, Wilkinson said, “I’d say it’s up there. Obviously, (open-age) amateur golf is tougher than junior golf. You’ve got a lot more (high-level) guys competing — ones with a lot of experience. So this definitely ranks up there among things I’ve done in my golf career so far.”

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

The CSU junior-to-be put on an impressive performance in Friday’s final, unofficially finishing 7 under par for 31 holes, including birdies on his last two. He won the 30th hole with a 4-foot birdie, then two-putted the 31st hole (another par-5) for a match-clinching tie.

“I feel like I’ve seen a lot of improvement the last few months in ball-striking and putting,” said Wilkinson, who had his dad John caddying for him at Lakewood CC. “I was pretty happy with how it went down.”

Tyson made it tight for the first 18 holes on Friday. Indeed, after Wilkinson couldn’t get up and down for par from just over the green on No. 15, the match was tied. But a couple of Tyson bogeys down the stretch in the morning allowed the longer-hitting Wilkinson to come into the very brief break with a 2-up lead.

“I hung in there on the first 18 for sure,” said Tyson, a 21-year-old graduate of Arvada West High School. “I played some good golf, but had some silly mistakes. The second 18 there was a little fatigue, some bad club choices, some bad swings. I was a little tired.

“But Matt played great. He definitely earned that one.”

Runner-up Tyler Tyson faced his share of tough 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 go 5 up. Tyson didn’t get closer than 4 down the rest of the way.

“I was happy with my week,” said Tyson, who won six of his seven matches for the week but was a surprise finalist. “I played some good golf this week. I’ll take some momentum from this, knowing that I can do it. Matt’s great. (Division I), he’s probably going to go pro (at some point) and kill it out there. To know I can hang with him at the right course … If a course fits me like this one, I’m certainly capable enough to play.”

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

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

And he never really looked back from there.

Tyson put some body English on a shot during Friday’s title match.

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

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

After the CGA Match Play final, Wilkinson was presented not only the championship trophy, but a medal in honor of 2011 champion Michael Lee, who passed away in late 2020 at age 28 after battling 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 from 2021-30.

Michael Lee, a graduate of Greeley Central High School, played his college golf at the Colorado School of Mines, where he twice was named the 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’ athletics Oredigger Hall of Fame in 2022. That same year, the Mines’ indoor golf center was dedicated to the memory of Lee and renamed in his honor.

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

John Lee (left), father of 2011 CGA Match Play champion Michael Lee, makes a point on Friday with 2024 winner Wilkinson.

John and Amy Lee created the Michael Ray Lee Foundation in their son’s honor, and have donated a significant amount of funds to various causes — mostly golf-related — in recent years. That includes helping to fund the Colorado Junior America’s Cup team, a squad on which Lee — and later Wilkinson — competed.

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


Thursday’s Quarterfinals

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

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

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

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

Thursday’s Semifinals

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

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

Friday’s Scheduled 36-Hole Final

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

For all the results from the Women’s Match Play, 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. The University of Colorado Evans Scholar alum was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates