The chance to follow in the footsteps of the most successful English golfer in history is on offer to one of the city’s most exciting prospects next week.
Matthew Lees, 17, a Leeds Union senior team member despite his tender years, heads to the United States this weekend to play against an elite international field in the 18th Faldo Series Grand Final.
The event is held next Wednesday to Friday at The Greenbrier, a famous club in West Virgina which stages an annual PGA Tour event and in 1979 was the site of the first Ryder Cup between the USA and a united Europe.
Lees is one of 20 players in the Under-18 category vying for the title of the Faldo Series champion. The junior event is revered the world over and has produced some fine champions who have gone on to varying degrees of success, from the highest-profile former winner in Rory McIlroy, to European Tour winners like Nick Dougherty, Marc Warren and Harrogate’s own John Parry.
“It’s going to be a fantastic opportunity and I can’t wait to get cracking,” says Lees, who plays out of Woolley Park in Wakefield, and who travels to West Virginia via Washington with his parents this weekend.
“I’ve seen The Greenbrier on the PGA Tour each year and it’s a cracking course.”
Lees, who won the Leeds Junior Matchplay Championship this summer, earned his place in the world finals by winning the Faldo Series national qualifer at Hollinwell in Nottingham in August.
“I missed out on the Moortown qualifier which would have been easier for me, but it was probably fate that I did that because it all worked so well for me at Hollingwell,” adds Lees, who shot 72, 72, 73 before winning the play-off.
“I had a feeling at the start of the week that it would come down to the last four holes and when I stood on that 15th tee that was exactly the scenario.
“I was confident I could close the tournament out there and although I didn’t – I needed a play-off – a win’s a win, and I’m proud of how I handled myself when it came to the crunch.”
Lees currently studies golf and other subjects at the Balby Carr Academy of Sport in Doncaster. With a handicap of +0.3 and a cv that can only be enhanced next week, a route to the professional game via the American collegiate system is something for Lees to consider.
Faldo spent a year at the University of Houston in the 1970s before turning professional and winning six majors, but Lees is not ready to commit just yet.
“At this stage of my life it’s not just about focussing solely on golf, I have to have something to fall back on if it doesn’t work out,” he says, pragmatically.
“I might have a year out after college before thinking about looking into a scholarship.
“I don’t know yet, I’m keeping my options open.”
As for Faldo, the man he hopes to impress this week, Lees adds: “Unfortunately I’ve never seen him play in the flesh but from the old footage of him and the stories you hear – what a player.”
Next year, Lees hopes to establish himself in the Leeds team and on the regional senior circuit. “It was great to step up to represent the senior team,” says Lees. “I was intrigued to see how noticable the step-up would be.
“It’s about testing yourself, and knowing whether you can compete at that level.”