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NORTON, Massachusetts – #MATTsters fever continues to build across the nation.
In anticipation of Matt Parziale – the Brockton firefighter who has made national and international headlines for competing in the 2018 Masters Tournament – the editors of Global Golf Post selected Parziale to be on the cover of the April 2nd Global Golf Post New England edition.
In addition to the regional cover, Mike Cullity dedicated a feature story to the reigning Mass Golf Player of the Year which appeared in both the New England and national editions.
Click here or see below to read the feature story online.
By Mike Cullity
Matt Parziale’s unlikely journey from the firehouse to Magnolia Lane is perhaps the most engaging sidelight to the Tiger Woods comeback narrative that has dominated the discussion leading into the 2018 Masters.
It sounds like a Walter Mitty fantasy, but starting Thursday Parziale, a 30-year-old Massachusetts firefighter, will tee it up against the likes of Woods, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth at Augusta National in what’s arguably golf’s greatest tournament.
Invited to the Masters by virtue of winning the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, Parziale works for Ladder Co. 1 in the rough-and-tumble city of Brockton, the hometown of legendary boxing champions Rocky Marciano and Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
Shortly after winning the Mid-Amateur title at Atlanta’s Capital City Club last October, he took a leave of absence from his job to begin preparing for the spoils his triumph would bring him in 2018: starts at the Masters, the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills and the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach.
“I just didn’t want to have the chance of getting hurt before all this stuff was going to happen,” Parziale said, referencing the risk of injury inherent to his profession. “I had to figure out some way (to take a leave). There was no way to do it the other way.” “The city’s been great, the mayor’s been great, the fire chief … that’s huge,” added Parziale’s father, Vic, who retired as a captain last November after 32 years with the Brockton Fire Department. “You can’t just show up at the Masters and say you haven’t played in four months.”
Eschewing his typical wintertime pursuits of skiing and spearheading a fire department hockey team that his father started 30 years ago, Parziale embarked on an offseason odyssey that has included multiple visits to Augusta National for practice rounds and tournament trips to Bermuda, Buenos Aires, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.
“I live to play competitive golf, to prepare … I just enjoy getting ready for what’s next,” he said. “I’ve just tried to compete at the highest level possible my entire life, and I’m fortunate enough to do it this year a few different times. That’s what keeps me going, and I’m looking forward to that the most.”
During his pit stops back home in the past few months, Parziale has honed his swing with instructor Shawn Hester in an indoor-outdoor bay at Harmon Golf in Rockland, Mass. During their recent sessions, Parziale has focused on improving control of the distance, trajectory and spin of his iron shots, said Hester, who also has tutored Rob Oppenheim and Fran Quinn, Massachusetts natives who are regulars on the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions, respectively.
“Obviously it’s a very big stage, one he hasn’t been on before,” Hester said. “So I don’t think the mechanics are the main issue. I think it’s more handling the stage and being able to keep your composure and being able to keep your focus. He can hit the shots. It’s a matter of staying within yourself and taking one shot at a time, trying not to let the biggest stage in the world influence your decision making and your abilities.
“He has the ability to focus and get locked in on the task at hand, and that’s one of the reasons why he’s in this event. … He’s not leaving stones unturned in this preparation. I think he values the chance he has and he’s trying to make the most of it. And I do think he’ll be able to handle the biggest stage.”
Although playing in the Masters will be a new experience, competing among professionals won’t be entirely foreign to Parziale. After graduating from Southeastern University, an NAIA school in Lakeland, Fla., and winning two of New England’s biggest amateur tournaments in 2009 – the New England Amateur and the Francis Ouimet Memorial Tournament – he turned pro and spent two-plus years playing mini-tours. He entered the PGA Tour Q-School three times but never advanced past the first stage.
Parziale took the test to become a Brockton firefighter in April 2012 and applied for amateur reinstatement a couple of months later after failing to advance in a U.S. Open sectional qualifier. He was reinstated in May 2013 and joined the Brockton Fire Department that December. Typically working 24-hour shifts followed by either two or four days off, he emerged as a mid-amateur force in his home state despite the occasional bleary-eyed tournament round after working overnight.
Last summer, Parziale won the Massachusetts Amateur and the Ouimet Memorial before bursting onto the national stage. Having never before won a U.S. Mid-Amateur match, Parziale reeled off five victories before routing Josh Nichols, 8 and 6, in the scheduled 36-hole final. During the morning 18 holes of that match, Parziale shot 63 with the usual match-play concessions.
“He’s got just an amazing ability to never give up,” said Herbie Aikens, a fellow Massachusetts competitor and frequent partner of Parziale’s in four-ball tournaments. “He just fights and fights and fights. (He) stays calm, he doesn’t really let the emotions get ahold of him like a lot of other golfers. I think he really trusts his game, as he should.”
Although Parziale will be the Masters’ least conventional competitor, his presence in the field will serve as inspiration to legions of failed touring pros – and is a testament to the notion that winning at any level breeds confidence.
“Back when he was struggling as a pro, I was really encouraging him to play, because I really saw the talent,” Hester said. “But he just wasn’t quite as sharp then. He didn’t have as much control of the driver, and his game just wasn’t polished enough at that time. … I’m honestly not surprised at his success and what he’s been able to do, because the talent was always there, and the desire and the love of the game and loving to compete was always there.
“It’s just a matter of circumstances were not quite right at that time. This kid’s from a working-class family; he doesn’t have a bottomless, endless supply of funds to give it a go, and that’s kind of what it takes. So he went back and got his life organized, and I think that’s a big part of playing well in competitive golf, is having your life organized in a way that allows you to be freed up to play.”
A few days before Parziale ventured south last month, more than 200 members of Thorny Lea Golf Club in Brockton – the club where Parziale has played since his teens – turned out for a send-off. Several individuals in the Massachusetts golf community and the Amateur Golf Alliance have donated money to Mass Golf that Parziale can in turn
accept from the state association under the USGA’s Rules of Amateur Status to defray his tournament expenses. And aside from spending Monday night in the Crow’s Nest, the traditional amateur lodging in the Augusta National clubhouse, Parziale is staying the week in a rented home with a Thorny Lea member who’s a longtime Masters volunteer.
Vic, who will caddie for Matt this week, also will be staying there along with Matt’s fiancée, Alison Hubbard, a Brockton dentist. (The couple moved their wedding date ahead two weeks after learning that their original August date would conflict with the U.S. Amateur.)
Mass Golf, for its part, is spearheading a social-media campaign encouraging people to root for Parziale. Dozens from Massachusetts are traveling to Augusta to watch Parziale in person, including Aikens, who figures there will be an even bigger fraternity keeping an eye on his four-ball partner from afar.
“I think every firefighter in the country’s going to be watching,” he said.