Trent Leon has a bright future in golf. He's 18 years old, entering his senior year of high school and has a college scholarship waiting for him. He's one of three children in his family attending the famed David Leadbetter Golf Academy. He's the top-ranked player in the American Junior Golf Association.
No doubt, the kid is going places.
Before he gets there, he's going to take a few lumps. It's a necessary evil that accelerates the maturing process and helps complete the learning curve. Someday, the Dallas native will be better for his experience Friday in the 46th Porter Cup at Niagara Falls Country Club.
It wasn't that Leon, the youngest player in the tournament, played horrible. He shot 73 under adverse conditions, which included a gallery a few hundred strong that accompanied the final group. He started the day four strokes off the lead but finished 10 strokes behind Spencer Levin, who provided Leon with a lesson in how to play near-flawless golf under pressure.
"If I would have shot 65, I probably wouldn't have learned that much, but it would have been nicer," Leon said. "It was awesome. There were a lot of people out there watching, and it's nice. Playing under pressure the whole round is going to help you. I went to the U.S. Amateur and had 50 people watch me. That was a step, and this was another step."
The Porter Cup is Levin's to lose, and it has been since he fired an opening-round 64. He shot his third straight round in the 60s on Friday with a 3-under 67, which moved him to 11 under for the tournament and gave him a four-shot lead over Nick Thompson. Levin shot a 68 in the second round.
"I've been hitting the ball well," Levin said. "Hopefully, I can just keep playing solid."
Leon started the day very much in contention. He made up a shot on the third hole and moved to 5 under before making three bogeys on his next four holes. He slipped on the back nine but made a 35-footer for birdie from the fringe on 17 and saved par from the sand on 18.
"It's golf," he said. "You're not going to play well all the time. It's going to be up and down. You just have to keep going."
Leon is expected to decide in the next two weeks whether he'll attend the University of Arizona, Oklahoma State or Georgia. His brother, Tyler, plays for Oklahoma State. He shot a 62 in the Ham-Am but has not fared as well in the tournament. He shot a 68 Friday and was 14 shots off the lead.
Their sister, Taylor, bound for Georgia, is a 17-year-old phenomenon who played in the U.S. Women's Open this year. Their father, Art Leon, was a good amateur player who played in the U.S. Senior Open in 1987 and 1996.
Levin has emerged as the top amateur in the country after finishing 13th in the U.S. Open last month. The 20-year-old has everything but a PGA Tour card, which seems inevitable. He doesn't possess extraordinary length off the tee, but he hits it plenty far. He's deadly with his irons, is an excellent putter and rarely makes mistakes. Levin conducted a clinic Friday on how to manage the tight 6,621-yard layout.
His effective precision-over-power approach was evident on the 15th hole, reachable off the tee for anyone daring enough to cut the corner. Thompson and Leon took the shortcut and made birdie. Levin elected to lay up and drained a downhill 25-footer to match them. His only hiccup Friday was a three-putt on the par-3 16th after hitting through the break and missing on the way back.
Beating the steady Levin will take some doing.
Thompson stayed with him for most of the round Friday before finishing with back-to-back bogeys. He shot 68 and lost ground. Jeffrey Overton was five shots back in third place after carding a 64. Chris Nallon moved to 5 under for the tournament before four-putting from 4 feet on the par-3 18th hole.
"It's been a big dogfight," Thompson said. "There were a lot of ups and downs out there. A lot of good shots became bad with the wind, and the bad shots became worse. . . . (Levin) is playing really good. It's going to take a lot to catch him."