Reigning Champ Parziale Looking Forward After Whirlwind Year September 21, 2018 | Charlotte, N.C. By Stuart Hall

Matt Parziale punctuated his year as U.S. Mid-Amateur champion by sharing low-amateur honors in this year's U.S. Open. (USGA/Ben Solomon)

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When Matt Parziale resumed working with instructor Shawn Hester at the tail end of 2016, Hester asked if Parziale had a particular goal.

He did: Win the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship.

“I don’t think Matt ever expected it to happen in that first year,” said Vic Parziale of his son, who won the title last October at Capital City Golf Club’s Crabapple Course in suburban Atlanta. “He’s very focused and he loves to compete.” 

Those who know the 31-year-old Brockton, Mass., firefighter best, though, like his father or Herbie Aikens, a decade-long friend and U.S. Amateur Four-Ball partner, were not particularly surprised by the result or the reaction. 

“He’s never been one to sit back and say, ‘Hey, wasn’t that great?’” said Aiken, who has partnered with Parziale to qualify for the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship three times, including next year’s championship at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Ore. “He’s on to the next thing. He’s definitely going to smile and enjoy an experience, but he won the Mid-Am and was back at work at the fire station the next morning. So that tells you something. He gets done what needs to get done.”

All that might help explain why Parziale, who is currently on leave from Brockton Fire Station No. 1 and who crammed a lifetime of memories into the past 12 months, appears more comfortable talking about this week’s Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club and Carolina Golf Club than looking in the rearview mirror.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s been an incredible year and it’s been so much fun, but I’m really not one to look back,” he said. “I just keep going forward and try and do it again.”

All Parziale wanted was to win the Mid-Amateur. What he received was so much more.

Soon after his 8-and-6, championship-match triumph over Josh Nichols, Parziale was sent a letter from his golfing role model, Tiger Woods. At first, Parziale recognized the logo on the envelope as being the same as Woods’ Jupiter, Fla., restaurant.

“I had been there, so I didn’t know what it was and I thought maybe I had made a mistake there or something,” said Parziale of the letter that instead congratulated him on coming back from 5 down after 10 holes to defeat medalist Brad Tilley in the quarterfinals before rolling to the title that including a morning-round, 7-under 63.

On Christmas Eve, Parziale received the expected invitation to play The Masters Tournament. That led to a nine-hole practice round with Woods and Fred Couples in April at Augusta National before missing the cut with rounds of 81-79.

“I thought I had a good game plan going into the Masters, and was playing well,” he said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the knowledge to play there. I didn’t feel out of place, I just hit to spots where it made the score go up pretty quickly.”

Parziale, whom Aikens says has a high golf IQ, seldom wastes a fail and viewed the early exit from Augusta National Golf Club as a learning experience for the U.S. Open. Last fall, the USGA announced that the U.S. Mid-Amateur champion would be fully exempt into the next year’s U.S. Open, making Parziale the first winner to earn that distinction. And he made that decision look awfully good, shooting four consistent rounds to finish at 16-over-par 296 to share low-amateur honors with Louisiana State University standout Luis Gagne. His tie for 48th placed him alongside USGA champions Phil Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker and Jim Furyk.

In addition to playing in last month’s U.S. Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links – he failed to qualify for match play – Parziale also was selected by the USGA to compete in the South American Amateur Championship in January.

If all of that was not enough, he and Alison Hubbard built a house and got married, two weeks before the U.S. Amateur.

“I was playing with my good friend Skip Berkmeyer during the first round of the Crump [Cup last week],” Parziale said, “and we were talking about the schedule we play as Mid-Ams, and we’re very fortunate. We get to play Pine Valley every year [for the Crump Cup], Seminole every year [for the Coleman Invitational], hopefully qualify for the U.S. Am and Mid-Am and play such great courses like this year. We make such good friends.”

Parziale views the mid-amateur (25 and older) environment as a big community, but it’s more like a brotherhood of varied age working-class men who enjoy competing and sharing each other’s company.

That may also be why Parziale chose to follow in his father’s firefighting footsteps. Vic Parziale, who caddied for his son at both majors, spent 32 years with the Brockton Fire Department before retiring as a captain in November.

“Always watched him while I was growing,” he said. “He always loved his career, loved the guys he worked with, and I was around the guys a lot, so I saw the camaraderie and the friendships that were built. Plus, I saw it as a good way to play competitive golf with the schedule. I know it sounds crazy picking careers around scheduling, but it’s something I love to do.” 

Parziale, his father and his grandfather used to beat balls around the local Brockton Fairgrounds before Matt matriculated to the local course. Competition and being accountable for his successes and failures is what drew Matt closer to the game. He was good enough to play collegiately at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., and then bounced around on the mini-tours, essentially grinding out a break-even career before turning to firefighting.

“He was just tired of the travelling and struggling to make money,” Vic Parziale said. “Last tournament he played [professionally in 2012], he missed the cut in Mississippi, got in his car and drove home.”

Parziale’s passion for golf was unabated by mini-tour mediocrity, so he applied for and regained his amateur status a year later. He quickly qualified for his first Mid-Amateur in 2013, represented Massachusetts in the USGA Men’s State Team Championships a year later and then qualified with Aiken for the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball in 2015 at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. This marks his 11th USGA championship.

Apparently, he’s not done.

Vic Parziale believes one reason his son has not slowed much to enjoy his golfing successes of the past year is because there are more goals to accomplish. A second U.S. Mid-Amateur title would put him select company with the likes of Nathan Smith, Jay Sigel and Tim Jackson, but also add another notch in his resume to make next year’s USA Walker Cup Team. One mid-amateur will make the side that will look to retain the Cup at Royal Liverpool.

“One day I think he will stop and really appreciate what he’s accomplished,” Vic Parziale said, “but the goal was to win the Mid-Amateur and all that has come was a result of that goal. Now he’s focused on the next thing.”

Aiken says do not be surprised by what comes next for his friend.

“He lives the game,” Aiken said. “Very much a feel player. He knows how to handle the mental side in pressure situations as well as knowing what the smart play is in playing a hole. I think he’s better than sometimes he gives himself credit.”

That idea of not having reached his fullest potential may be yet another motivation for Parziale.

“I fell in love with it at a young age,” Parziale said. “I wasn’t very good, but I always enjoyed the process of getting better. It’s the competition, being out there by yourself. Even when I was at the lowest point in the game or playing terrible, I was never discouraged. I just try to work through it and give myself a chance the next time.”

That next time is this week. 

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA digital channels.

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