That's the thing about golf. There is no chance I could ever beat him (Cole Ogden) in a 72-hole stroke tournament, but in match play, you never know. Anything can happen. —Craig Wilson, a 51-year-old LDS Business College instructor
MIDWAY — It was a match for the ages and proof that the Utah State Amateur features some of the most dramatic golf anyone can witness anywhere.
On the first day of match play, all former champions advanced. But some mighty good golfers fell.
It took only about an hour Wednesday for whispers to spread through the clubhouse and on the course at Soldier Hollow: Cole Ogden, one of the hottest amateur golfers in Utah, a guy who won medalist honors by two shots after 36 holes of stroke play Monday and Tuesday, was getting all he could handle from some unknown who’d barely made the field.
In fact, many veteran golfers and tournament folks didn’t know this challenger at all. He was a mystery man.
Cole Ogden, meet Craig Wilson, a 51-year-old LDS Business College instructor.
The two battled in a match that went to the 19th hole. While Ogden got up 2 after 13, Wilson wouldn’t go away until his final pin-rattling shot barely missed in sudden death.
Ogden found himself down to Wilson right out of the chute. Ogden, a current member of BYU’s golf team and recent winner of the Valley View Amateur, Glen Eagle Amateur and Dixie Red Hills Amateur and also the low-scoring amateur at the Provo Open, was supposed to easily dispatch Wilson, a guy who barely qualified for match play.
Not so fast.
Before Wilson left Soldier Hollow on Tuesday, he finished with two birdies to get into a playoff, then made another birdie to survive two extra holes that featured 11 hungry players trying to kill off one another for three spots after 61 of 288 players had already nailed down match play berths.
“I’d never met him in my life until we shook hands on the first tee,” said Ogden.
Then boom, Ogden found himself down one hole to Wilson after three. “All I thought about was grinding,” said Ogden.
As the match progressed, both players made spectacular shots, knocking down pins and almost making a hole-in-one.
Wilson’s task was steep. Of the 32 matches Wednesday, a lower seed won just seven of them.
Ogden caught Wilson and went ahead on the seventh hole and then had a heck of a time ending the match, even after leading by two after 13. Wilson hit the pin on the par-4 uphill 15th to square the match with a 4-foot birdie.
On the long par-5 16th hole, Ogden drove his tee shot into the fairway bunker on the right side and had 255 yards to the green. Wilson hit his approach shot short in the green-side bunker, leaving him 55 yards to the hole.
Ogden took out a utility club and rifled a near-perfect shot that landed on line 3 feet short of the green and rolled to within 8 feet for eagle. “Shot of the day,” said Wilson to Ogden as he approached the green. Wilson then opened up an 8-iron and blasted out of the sand to 4 feet for birdie. But Ogden won the hole by making his 3 to go up 1.
On the 17th, a 200-yard par 3, Ogden pulled his tee shot into the junk left. Seeing that, Wilson used a shot he’d practice at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon and hit his tee shot short as a runner and it rolled to within 18 inches for a conceded birdie to square it all.
Both players parred 18 to send the match into sudden death on the No. 1 uphill par-4, where Wilson made the left rough, took a stroke to get out of trouble and overshot the green in three. Ogden missed the green left but chipped to a few inches for a tap-in par.
Wilson’s attempt to tie and extend the match with a par was a spectacular chip that hit the fringe, rolled on the green, hit the flagstick and bounced harmlessly away. His magical day was over.
If anything, Wilson said his fast start didn’t allow Ogden to think he was a guy who was just OK. “After that, it was the best match I’ve ever been involved with.”
Wilson, it turns out, is also a former Cougar. “So it’s all good, really,” he said. Wilson played in the 80s with Rick Fehr, Dick Zokol and Keith Clearwater but quit because he says he was mediocre.
He came to Soldier Hollow this week because he feared no one, having played junior golf in Seattle against Fehr, Fred Couples and Kirk Triplett. “I wasn’t fazed by anyone here, but the downside is I haven’t played that much and I’m not very good.”
Wilson put on a show for 19 holes. He took up the game again because his 11-year old son Danny wanted to play. The father practiced with him and the son was by his side as his No. 1 fan Wednesday.
“That’s the thing about golf,” said Wilson. “There is no chance I could ever beat him (Ogden) in a 72-hole stroke tournament, but in match play, you never know. Anything can happen. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day. I began to believe that when I felt a little magic once again yesterday and today.”
But the best part of the day was the look of pride in the eyes of young Danny. He saw his dad play his heart out — playing golf the way it’s supposed to be played while making shots all over the course.
When Wilson left Wednesday, he was far from a loser.
Ask his son.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.