COLORADO SPRINGS — Arapahoe sophomore Matthew Wilkinson has barely spent time behind the wheel of a car. On the golf course, however, he drives the ball just fine. He wasn't on the Warriors roster for the 2018 Class 5A tournament but, early in the 2019 he looks primed to take one of those spots.
This summer his game was good enough that he earned a spot in a prestigious national junior tournament that may have given him the spark he needed to compete with the best Colorado has to offer.
His game got him down to the Miami and the junior Optimist International championship at the Doral.
He didn't win, but he notched a top-20 finish in the boys 14-15 division to give his confidence a major boost heading into the 2019 boys golf season.
"It gave me good, positive vibes coming off it," he said. "It makes me feel how with how I'm playing and how I'm getting better."
He got the chance to put that talent on display at the Cheyenne Mountain Invitational on Monday at the Country Club of Colorado. He shot a 3-over-par 74 to finish sixth at the event. Arapahoe edged Cheyenne Mountain by two strokes to bring home the team title.
Wilkinson's 74 was best of the Warriors and just two strokes behind Cheyenne Mountain's Carter Surofchek and Gabe Marmon. The teammates went back on the course to settle their tie and it was Marmon who won via sudden death on the third playoff hole.
Even as a sophomore, Wilkinson was quick to understand how essential it was to get on a tough course early in the season and battle against competitive teams.
"It helps us," Wilkinson said. "This is one of the toughest courses we'll play all year and if we can play well here, we can play well anywhere else."
Perhaps his most understated point is that playing in a tournament like the Optimist, he felt like he gained a good grasp on dealing with pressure in a high-level tournament. He was within striking distance heading into the final round of the Optimist, and even if he didn't claim medalist honors, he gained enough experience to help him thrive this season, even as an underclassman.
"Playing under the pressure was key," Wilkinson said. "You don't realize how much it affects your golf game in general when you have to play well in a big tournament."
It helped him early as he found himself two-over through three holes. He battled back to get back-to-back birdies on No. 2 and No. 3 (he started the day on hole No. 16) and work back to even. He was one-over heading into the final hole before coming away with his only double-bogey on the day.
With a team win under its belt, Arapahoe will head to the Cherry Creek Invitational on Tuesday and try to build on its early success this season.