Vikings’ Lee, Saints’ Fitchett Face Off Amid Pandemic
Western Washington's Jordan Lee (left) and Saint Martin's Tyler Fitchett both earned Second Team All-GNAC honors in 2019-20.
Western Washington's Jordan Lee (left) and Saint Martin's Tyler Fitchett both earned Second Team All-GNAC honors in 2019-20.

Monday, October 5, 2020
by Kaho Akau, GNAC Media Relations Assistant

TACOMA, Wash. – Even in the midst of a pandemic, two GNAC golfers found a way to go head-to-head this summer.

Western Washington junior Jordan Lee and Saint Martin’s senior Tyler Fitchett gave GNAC golf fans a preview of the upcoming season as both finished atop the leaderboard at the 2020 Tacoma City Amateur on August 28-30 at the Lake Spanaway and Oakbrook golf courses with three-round scores of 4-under-par 210.

Fitchett shot a 70 in all three rounds while Lee carded a 66 in the third round to come from behind and send the tournament to a playoff, where he held off Fitchett to win the tournament.

“I was a little nervous because I have never done well in playoffs and I had some friends following me and cheering me on,” said Lee, a native of Auburn, Washington. “I hit two really good shots that set me up for an easy birdie. I’ve played in this tournament a few times but I never did well, so to win this felt really good.”

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, GNAC sports have been missed for months. Some of the big summer tournaments were also canceled, leaving Lee and Fitchett out of competition even longer. The Tacoma City Amateur presented them with an opportunity to not just golf casually.

“Being back on the course with a trophy on the line was such a great feeling,” said Fitchett, a Yakima native. “I am driven by competition, so being without tournaments for months was frustrating. To be able to walk onto a course and have a reason to lock into a certain level of focus with the goal of winning was something that I desperately craved.”

Lee and Fitchett are hungry for more competition. What they miss more than competing, however, is being around other golfers who have the same competitive nature.

With most sports, athletes typically don’t care very much for their opponents. But golf is not like most sports, and golfers are not like most athletes.

The GNAC has just five men’s golf programs, creating a tight-knit community. Over the course of the fall and spring seasons, those golfers become familiar with each other not only as athletes but as people. So when it was time for Lee and Fitchett to face off in the playoff, it was the only thing about the tournament that felt right.

“It weirdly felt normal,” Fitchett said. “Jordan and I have a great friendship and we have played together a few times. The only thing missing in that playoff was our coaches walking down the fairway with us.”

“It was cool to go head-to-head with a fellow GNAC golfer in the playoff,” Lee said. “Tyler is a good player and I knew it would be tough to win.”

Golf is a game of imperfection. And it may very well be the most mentally taxing sport in collegiate athletics.

In other sports, coaches have the option to take a player out of the game to rest. But there is no resting during a round of golf. There is no hiding from any struggles. There are only those who sink and those who swim.

That’s why GNAC golfers share a bond that only they understand. It’s the reason why they are so competitive with each other, but it’s also why they develop meaningful friendships.

“The competitive nature among GNAC golfers is cool,” Lee said. “A lot of us know each other from past tournaments so I enjoy playing with them. It’s a lot of fun but we’re all competitive so we want to beat each other.”

As competitive as they are, even in defeat, those same athletes support their conference foes.

“Golfers in the GNAC have a strong camaraderie,” Fitchett said. “While we are all extremely competitive, we congratulate each other’s success because it continues the GNAC’s reputation of being one of the best golf conferences in the nation.”

A Second Team All-GNAC selection in 2019-20 and the GNAC Player of the Year in 2018-19, Lee enters the season looking to lead the Vikings and reclaim his title as the conference’s top male golfer.

More importantly, he hopes to hit the ground running in the spring when the Vikings can finally get back to some level of normal and compete against the GNAC’s best.

“I am looking forward to competing with my teammates again and traveling to tournaments to see how our team is tested against others,” Lee said.

After earning back-to-back Second Team All-GNAC selections, Fitchett’s goals are no different than Lee’s as he enters his senior campaign. Returning every key player from last year’s team and adding more talented golfers into the mix, the Saints believe they have the pieces to reach the pinnacle.

“I can’t wait to go to battle with my team again with an underdog mentality,” Fitchett said. “Last year, we felt like we were on our way to accomplishing all of our goals before COVID-19 shut everything down. Our team knows that we have a great chance to reach new heights. We love talking about it and now we’re itching to go out and prove it.”

There’s no predicting what else 2020 will throw their way. What is certain, though, is that Lee and Fitchett will be ready to go head-to-head again when the time comes.