Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

Living a Dream: Playing in the Buick
by Rick Arpin

If you’re 19 years old and recently chosen as the Big Ten Freshman Golfer of the Year, what do you do next? In the case of University of Michigan sophomore, Andy Matthews, the answer was to qualify for the 1999 Buick Open at Warwick Hills.

Matthews, a graduate of Forest Hills Central High School and a Sports Management and Communications major at Michigan, had a busy first week in August of last year. On Monday he qualified for the Buick by shooting a 3-under 68 at Fieldstone in Auburn Hills to grab one of the four spots available to the 130 contestants. On Tuesday he played in a 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifier and then rushed back to Grand Blanc to get in nine holes of practice at Warwick. After nine more holes of practice very early on Wednesday, Matthews had 24 hours to contemplate his competitive debut with the “big boys.”

He had approached the qualifier with the attitude that, “if it happens, great” and it would be a good learning experience. He was relatively calm as he approached the first tee for his 1:10 p.m. starting time on Thursday. But , he says, his hands were visibly shaking as his name was announced and he teed his ball for his drive on the par-5, first hole. A par on No. 1 settled things down. Bogeys on 2 and 8 were offset by birdies on 5 and 6 and he turned at even par. Two more birdies on 11 and 13 succumbed to a double bogey on 15 and a three-putt on 18, yet he finished a respectable 1-over. A 76 on Friday put him seven shots off the cut, but with the wealth of the experience he was seeking. Highlights of the two days included walking into the locker room and seeing Jose-Maria Olazabal and thinking “He just won the Masters.” The hospitality at Warwick Hills, support of friends, family and teammates who followed him and having his Dad, Jerry, caddy for him, all contributed to the excitement of the week.

So, what did he learn from this “learning experience” that in his words “went too quickly?” His desire to play professional golf was reinforced and he used his opportunity to play in the Buick as a motivator for practice and competition. He was surprised at how nervous he was, but gratified at how this diminished as the rounds progressed. From a technical point of view he states, “They’re incredible with their wedges.”

Matthews’ summer excitement continued a few weeks after the Buick when he spent three days with famed sports psychologist Bob Rotella. They used his experiences in the tournament as a basis for a lot of their discussions. One of the key elements that Matthews brought back from his time with Rotella was, “Don’t overemphasize any shot. They’re all equal.”

Matthews knows he’s fortunate to have a supportive family, an outstanding teacher, (Kent Country Club pro Charley Vandenberg), a challenging home course (Egypt Valley CC) and the opportunity to see how far his ability will take him in the game of golf. Today, as he looks back on his chance to play a PGA tour event he wonders, “Did it really happen?” and he uses it as a benchmark for where he’s been and where he wants to go. This year he’ll try to qualify for the Buick again , as well as the Western Open in Chicago. Who knows, perhaps someday another 19-year old will walk into a locker room at a tour stop and think, “That’s Andy Matthews, he just won the . . .”

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