At 36, Garrett Jones of Fitchburg is, by nine years, the oldest golfer to reach the semifinals of the Wisconsin State Golf Association Match Play Championship. Though he doesn’t play as much golf or practice as often as the college kids, he’s not conceding an inch.
“I think I was the oldest one left in the quarterfinals,” he said with a laugh. “I’m well aware. I don’t know if it’s increased motivation. I still play in golf tournaments to win them. I do relish the opportunity to play against these college kids, for sure.”
Jones won two matches at Hawks Landing Golf Club in Madison on Wednesday to reach the semis. First, he fought back from 2-down to beat 24-year-old Adam Miller of Lodi, 4 and 3, in the Round of 16 and then he edged Adam Garski of Wauwatosa, who plays on UW-Milwaukee’s club team, 2 and 1.
“He was solid,” Jones said of Garski, who was in grade school when Jones graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2007. “He didn’t give me anything. I don’t recall him missing a fairway. He said he didn’t have big aspirations to play collegiately. He could absolutely be an asset to a college team, from what I saw today.”
In the semifinals Thursday morning, Jones faces Aidan Lafferty, a redshirt sophomore on Marquette University’s golf team from Downers Grove, Ill. Lafferty birdied the 18th hole of a back-and-forth match to get past Kenosha’s Cameron Huss, a rising sophomore at UW, 1-up.
Lafferty never trailed, but he never had more than a 1-up lead and he and Huss alternated winning holes for six consecutive holes on the front nine.
“On the 10th hole, I made a 3-footer to halve the hole and I said to Cameron, ‘So that’s what a halve feels like,’” Lafferty said. “We hadn’t halved a hole since No. 3. It kept on going back and forth. He'd land a punch and I’d land a punch. It was crazy.”
Huss birdied the 17th hole to square the match, but Lafferty birdied the 18th to win it.
“It was 12 feet down the hill, left to right,” Lafferty said. “I didn’t think it was to win. Cameron had a good look, 4½ feet back up the hill (for birdie), and I really didn’t see him missing that one. So, in my mind, my putt was to force extra holes.”
In the other semifinal, former Marquette golfer Nick Nelson of Milwaukee faces Eau Claire’s Matt Tolan, who recently exhausted his eligibility at the University of South Dakota.
Nelson, 27, beat South Dakota golfer Max Schmidtke of Sheboygan, 3 and 1, in the quarterfinals after getting past 2020 semifinalist Nate Thomson of Greendale, 2 and 1, in the Round of 16.
“It was a battle all the way,” said Nelson, the 2016 State Amateur champion. “The level of competition really steps up and it requires everybody to be on their ‘A’ game. It really feels like you’ve got to do something special to win holes. It was nice to get the putter going and move on to tomorrow.”
In the match against Schmidtke, Nelson took a 2-up lead with a conceded eagle on the 300-yard, par-4 14th hole, after Schmidtke hit his first tee shot out of bounds. Nelson then closed out the match with a birdie on No. 17.
“It’s different playing this much golf, honestly,” said Nelson, who works at a law office in downtown Milwaukee. “The competitive golf, under these conditions, it does wear on you a little bit. You’re trying to maintain your focus the whole time. When you get the competitive juices flowing again it’s really fun to be out there. Competitive golf is really, really fun. You can’t simulate that in a casual round. And then to perform well feels really good, too, to know there’s something left in the tank.”
Tolan never trailed in his match against Tyler Leach of Spring Valley, but couldn’t put away the Marquette golfer until the 17th hole. The key stretch was hole Nos. 7-9, when the match went from all square to Tolan leading, 3-up. Leach bogeyed No. 7 and double-bogeyed No. 8, then Tolan made a 50-foot bomb for birdie on No. 9.
“Knowing Tyler, I knew he was going to battle back,” Tolan said.
Sure enough, Leach birdied the 12th hole and Tolan bogeyed the 13th.
“I just had to stay patient,” Tolan said. “I knew that the putts were going to fall eventually and I made a big one on 16, about a 15-footer for bogey to halve the hole. That was crucial. On 17, I made a good 4-footer to close out the match. All in all, it was really solid golf.”
Tolan lost in the semifinals in both 2017 and ’18 and lost in the Round of 16 in each of the last two years.
“I’ve been kicking myself to get back in this position,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. I know I’ve got a tough match against Nick. He’s not going to let down, that’s for sure. We’re riding a pretty good wave right now. Hoping I can close this one out and get it done.”