MP final handshake

Garrett Jones, right, and Matt Tolan share a handshake after Jones defeated Tolan in 21 holes to win the WSGA Match Play Championship on Thursday.

MADISON – There have been a lot of great matches in the 46-year history of the Wisconsin State Golf Association Match Play Championship, so to call the final Thursday the best ever would be a stretch.

Garrett Jones of Fitchburg and Matt Tolan of Eau Claire made their share of mistakes. The golf wasn’t always spectacular, though at times – and especially down the stretch – it was heroic. The finalists were just about dead even in terms of talent, desire and toughness, and anytime that happens in match play – particularly when a title is on the line – the competition is bound to be special.

And so, it was. It took 21 holes and a thunderbolt from Jones to decide it. The 36-year-old golfer nearly holed an 8-iron from 171 yards on the third extra hole at Hawks Landing Golf Club, and his conceded 2-foot birdie putt – after Tolan lipped out a short par attempt – finally ended the riveting match.

Jones, who played collegiately at the University of Wisconsin and is a member at Hawks Landing, thus added a second WSGA Match Play title to the one he won in 2007. The 14-year span between victories is the longest in the history of this event.

“The WSGA is always going to hold a special place in my heart, so anytime I can win one of their championships, it means a lot,” he said. “I’m just proud. And I still think my best golf is ahead of me. There’s a number of us mid-ams – (Jack) Schultz, (Joe) Weber, Bielo (Mike Bielawski), KVR (Kevin Van Rossum) – we’re out here to win, you know? We firmly believe our best golf is ahead of us.”

Jones never trailed in the match, which was played in on-and-off drizzle after the start was delayed nearly an hour by lightning in the area. But he never had more than a 2-up lead, and Tolan, who recently finished his collegiate career at the University of South Dakota, applied pressure throughout, especially over the closing holes.

Jones was 2-up through 13, but Tolan hit a beautiful 40-yard pitch from the rough to 7 feet on the 325-yard 14th hole and made the birdie putt. Jones then lipped out his own birdie attempt from 5 feet.

“That was kind of a weak putt,” Jones said. “If I had been able to make that and maintain a 2-up lead with four to go, it’s probably a different game.”

On the 450-yard 15th hole, Tolan’s approach covered the flagstick and finished 15 feet behind the hole. He rolled in that putt, too, and suddenly the match was back to even.

“Obviously, he’s a gamer,” Jones said. “Birdies one of the hardest holes out here. You expect that. He doesn’t want to go home without this (trophy).”

Jones went 1-up again when he buried a 14-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole and had a big advantage after outdriving Tolan by a substantial margin on the 543-yard, par-5 18th. After Tolan laid up, Jones went for the green from 214 yards but hit his iron shot thin and his ball came up short, smacking into a mound short of the green and bouncing backward into the penalty area.

“It was a bad swing,” Jones said. “Bad contact. I have those. You can kind of say it might have been a bad break, too, because it did land outside the hazard and kind of kicked back in. It wasn’t a good lie.”

His third swing barely moved the ball and his fourth barely got it on the green. After he missed his 35-foot par putt, Tolan two-putted from 30 feet for par and the match was back to all square and going to sudden death.

Both players parred the first extra hole, No. 10. Then they went back to No. 18 and this time Jones hit the green in two. Tolan’s drive finished in the left rough, his second shot missed the green right and his third shot, a pitch from 30 yards, rolled past the pin and onto the back fringe, some 20 feet from the hole and down a slight incline.

When Jones lagged his 35-foot eagle attempt to within 3½ feet, the match appeared to be over. But Tolan, of course, wasn’t done. He rolled in the 20-footer for birdie and as his ball disappeared into the cup, he pumped his fist and shouted, “Let’s go!” Suddenly, Jones’ 3½-footer looked a lot longer, but he gathered himself and made it.

“I told myself, ‘He’s going to make it, so you have to be prepared to make yours to keep going,’” Jones said. “It wasn’t a surprise when he made it. That’s the discipline you have to have. Always expect your opponent to pull something out of the hat, and he did.”

They went back to No. 10 for the third extra hole. Both players hit the fairway on the 465-yard par-4, Tolan hammering his drive some 30 yards past Jones’ tee shot. Jones then hit the shot of the day, a drawing 8-iron from 171 that landed just short of the hole and finished 2 feet behind it.

“What do you do when he hits it to 2 feet?” Tolan said. “My ball was in a divot, too. It was in about a two-inch by one-inch divot. I had to come straight down on it. That’s the only way to get it out of those, and I actually hit a hell of a shot.”

That he did, his ball stopping some 30 feet from the hole, just past pin-high. Knowing he had to make the downhill slider to extend the match, he put a good stroke on it, but his ball slid some 4 feet past the hole. He then lipped out the par putt and conceded Jones’ short birdie.

“I took him to 21 holes,” said Tolan, who won the 2017 State Amateur but hasn’t won a tournament of note since. “We kind of just went back and forth. We had a heck of a match. He’s a great player. He hit the shot when he needed to. You move on.”

Speaking of moving on, both players are entered in the Ray Fischer Amateur Championship, which gets underway Friday at Janesville Riverside. Jones won the Fischer in 2007 and Tolan has had a number of close calls in the Wisconsin Public Links Association’s premier event.

“I’m really excited to get back out competing in the Fischer,” Tolan said. “I’ve had success down there for the last couple of years. Really looking forward to breaking through one of these times.”

Third-place battle

In a battle of Golden Eagles in the third-place match, Marquette graduate Nick Nelson of Milwaukee edged current MU player Aidan Lafferty of Downers Grove, Ill., in 19 holes.

In the semifinals earlier in the day, Tolan beat Nelson, 4 and 3, and Jones beat Lafferty by the same score.

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