How Martin Leon won the Utah State Am by outlasting Utah teammate Blake Tomlinson in epic 39-hole match
Chilean golfer Martin Leon, 19, becomes first foreign-born player to win the prestigious tournament after holing out from a greenside bunker to stem teammates’ momentum
In a couple of ways, Chilean golfer Martin Leon made sure the 123rd Utah State Amateur’s championship match would be a memorable one.
Leon, who will be a redshirt freshman at the University of Utah this fall, defeated Utes teammate Blake Tomlinson in 39 holes in an epic final match at Alpine Country Club that ties for the longest match in State Am history.
Leon, 19, from Santiago, Chile, becomes the first international player to win the State Am in the longest continuously held tournament in the world’s illustrious history.
“It is disappointing. But I know there is a lot to look forward to, and a lot to learn from this week, so I will do just go back and hopefully play good in the fall.” — University of Utah golfer Blake Tomlinson after losing the championship match of the Utah State Amateur for the second year in a row
In winning, Leon denied Tomlinson’s bid to win it all after falling in the championship match last year at Jeremy Ranch to another Utah teammate, Mitchell Schow.
“It is disappointing,” said Tomlinson, whose boyhood dream of winning the most prestigious amateur golf tournament in Utah fell short when he missed a 12-footer for par on the No. 3 green at Alpine, having hit his approach shot into the par-4 into a bunker left of the green. “But I know there is a lot to look forward to, and a lot to learn from this week, so I will do just go back and hopefully play good in the fall.”
Tomlinson never led in the match, the longest since Abel Larson defeated Arn Goff in 39 holes at Fort Douglass Country Club in 1938.
Leon said several times after Friday’s quarterfinal and semifinal win that if he couldn’t win the championship, he wanted Tomlinson to win it. He repeated himself after the big win.
“Yeah, it is awesome (that two Utes were in the final),” Leon said. “I really respect Blake. When I first got here he pushed me to work harder so I would have a chance for next season.”
Leon said Tomlinson is the best golfer on the Utah team, and he was even more convinced of that after dueling for 39 holes.
“Playing against him, I knew he was going to be the favorite guy today because he finished second last year and it was kinda tough for him,” Leon said. “I said, ‘If I don’t win today, I am going to be really happy for him, because he really deserved it.’”
Leon did some spectacular shot-making to pull it out, although the match wasn’t particularly well-played.
On the par-4 10th hole, the competitors’ 28th hole, Leon drove the green from the black tees (approximately 321 yards) and made the putt for eagle to go 3-up.
“Playing against him, I knew he was going to be the favorite guy today because he finished second last year and it was kinda tough for him,” Leon said. “I said, ‘If I don’t win today, I am going to be really happy for him, because he really deserved it.’” — Martin Leon
But Tomlinson fought back. He won No. 11/29 with a par, No. 13 with a birdie and No. 14 with a bogey to square the match.
“I think that is just part of who I am,” said Tomlinson, a Skyline High product. “And I mean, I don’t think I led hardly any of my matches, except for the first one, and I came back and won all of them except for the last one. I knew I still had a chance, even when I was three down on the last nine holes. So I just believed in myself.”
Leon made the shot of the tournament on the par-4 15th hole in the afternoon 18, chipping in for birdie to go 1-up after making a double bogey, at least, on No. 14.
“I had a perfect lie, and I said, ‘OK, I just need to land this one somewhere like 15, 18 feet short of the pin,” he said. “I hit it very solid and I saw it going in and it was just a fist pump and a celebration with my caddie (Utah teammate Oscar Maxfield).”
Tomlinson won the par-5 17th hole with a birdie, and when both players made pars on No. 18, the championship match went to extra holes for the first time since Dan Horner beat Devin Daniels in 38 holes at Soldier Hollow in 2008.
On the 39th hole, Leon pushed his tee shot right of the fairway, but caught a break when it didn’t land behind a tree and had a clear shot to the green. He made his par, then watched Tomlinson’s putt to tie just miss.
Leon’s father, Juan Pablo Leon, made the trip from Chile to watch him play this week, a nice touch for the champion because his dad “hasn’t seen my play golf since December of last year.”
Remarkably, Leon almost didn’t even make match play.
He said he had a bad front nine the second day of stroke-play qualifying, and needed to make a birdie on No. 17 just to make the 16-man playoff for the last 11 match-play berths Tuesday night.
He served notice that he would be a force to be reckoned with when he knocked off a pair of BYU golfers — Keanu Akina and Spencer Dunaway — on Thursday and Friday to get into the championship match.
“Martin played solidly, and I didn’t,” Tomlinson said. “Hopefully he is coming out of his shell going into this season, because we need all the help we can get, just getting better and developing. So I am excited for what he has to bring this year.”