The 19-year-old capped off a brilliant week with a 5-under 67 at Swan-e-Set Bay Resort & CC to come in with a 72-hole total of 19-under 269, a full five shots clear of Americans Mark Johnson and Nathan Fritz. Scott Hend of Australia and Chris Wall of Dallas, Texas, both took it low Sunday to finish tied for fourth - Hend shot 66 while Wall posted 65.
Prior to Sunday, no amateur had won a Tour title since Rob McMillan erased a six-shot deficit on the final day to win the Xerox Manitoba Open in his hometown of Winnipeg way back in 1996. Last season, American Nick Cassini had the best showing by an amateur when he finished sixth at the Texas Challenge. A few months later, Victorias Craig Doell wound up eighth in his own backyard at the Victoria Open.
If there were any questions as to whether or not Lepps nerves would hold up with the lead Sunday, he answered them quickly with a birdie on the opening hole. After hitting his approach to within a foot on the ninth, Lepp tapped in for birdie and made the turn three shots up on Wall. With his ball lying in a fairway bunker on number 11, Lepp knocked a 9-iron from 158 yards to the back fringe before canning the birdie putt. On the par-5 14th, Lepp, leading Johnson by three, added another birdie while Johnson struggled to a bogey. There would be no drama on this day.
Heading into Saturday tied for first with four others, the two-time B.C. amateur champion played with ice in his veins over the final 36-holes, shooting 11-under in that span.
I think the 14th was the turning point, and I figured I was in the clear, he added. I hit the back nine and it felt like home out there. Anything can happen, but I was only in control of what I could do. Right now, I cant put it into words. Im a competitor and want to win, and I was able to get it done this week.
Because of Lepps amateur status, Sunday also turned out to be a windfall for Johnson and Fritz, a Golf Channel exemption into the GVC. Fritzs birdie on the final hole moved him into a second place tie with Johnson, who left 25-footer for birdie on 18 short, denying him solo second. Each player took home $22,400 Cdn. The top of the Order of Merit now resembles a shampoo ad: Johnson and Johnson. Rob Johnson continues to lead with $50,850, while Mark moves into second with $44,751 in earnings. At the end of the year, the top two off the money list will be exempted into the second stage of PGA Tour Qualifying.
Its not to often you can finish second and get money like that so I cant be disappointed, said Johnson, who had his second runner-up showing of the year. Now Ive put myself in position heading into the last two events of the year. And hand it to the kid (Lepp)- he played a hell of a round and deserves everything he is getting right now.
A Canadian Tour triumph will certainly add another feather into Lepps cap but will not give him incentive to turn pro early. Last years NCAA Big Ten Player of the Year will switch from Illinois to the University of Washington next year, but refuses to entertain the notion of going pro until he finishes school.
The win means a lot, but it isnt changing my mind-I wont turn pro until school is done, stressed Lepp, who has his father, Dan, caddying for him all week. Im excited about going to Washington, so that makes the decision a lot easier.
If someone told me they were going to give me $50 million a day to go pro, that is another story. That isnt going to happen, and I wont make a decision based on emotion.
It seemed only appropriate that Lepp wore a golf shirt Sunday with a red maple leaf and the word CANADA stitched on it. On a memorable weekend just a few kilometres from his Abbotsford hometown, James Lepp, if he hadnt already done so, clearly established himself as one of the risings stars in the Canadian golf ranks. Most people in this country are looking at Canadian Tour players such as Derek Gillespie, Rob McMillan, David Hearn and Jon Mills to make their mark on the PGA Tour once the torch is passed from the hands of reigning Masters champion Mike Weir. One of the RCGAs hottest commodities, Lepps already-impressive resume will certainly be bolstered with his triumph here.
That makes it a little more special knowing my name will create a lot more attention now. With that will come added pressure, and I know there will be days when I shoot 75 or 76. But Im still young and will be learning for a few more years yet.
Lepp will now turn his attention to the Pacific Coast and Canadian Amateur Championships. Both events will be staged in B.C. over the next two weeks.
The Canadian Tour takes a week off before resuming action with the Lewis Chitengwa Memorial Championship in Virginia from August 14-17.
NOTES: Two-time Canadian Tour champion Jason Bohn carded a final round 64 Sunday to win the Nationwide Tours Chattanooga Classic. Last month, Bohn lost a playoff heartbreaker at the Samsung CPGA Championship.