Golf future is wide ‘Open’ for Matt Naumec ’15
By Russ Held, Director of Electronic Communications
It was the “bucket list of bucket lists” for Matt Naumec ’15, when the whirlwind start to his professional golf career in June landed him on the biggest of stages — at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
“Playing in the U.S. Open, at Pebble Beach . . . that week I’ll remember for the rest of my life,’’ Mr. Naumec, 22, said. “Those nine days there, with my family, friends, grandparents? About 20 people there to support me? I got to share something I had dreamed about for 22 years, and I got to share it with my entire family. That made it so much more special.’’
So there he was . . . a “kid” from Wilbraham, Massachusetts, playing golf on Father’s Day Weekend.
At Pebble Beach.
At the U.S. Open.
Mr. Naumec was born eight days after Tiger Woods made his professional debut in 1996, and there he was hitting balls on the range — one spot away from Woods — as he prepared for his fourth professional start.
“I played with Rickie Fowler, Tommy Fleetwood, Ian Poulter, Jon Rahm . . . ,’’ Mr. Naumec said. “Growing up, it was always a dream to be out there playing with guys like that, and now I can put it in perspective.”
On the course at the 119th U.S. Open, Mr. Naumec was one of 156 golfers of the best golfers in the world vying for the national championship.
“I played great on the first day, I was 3 over (par),’’ Mr. Naumec said. “I hit the ball great and I can’t hang my head.
I had a couple of good putts . . . I was really, really close to putting together a very good round.’’
Mr. Naumec needed a second round score of a couple shots under par to make the 36-hole cut, but said, “I could have done that on a really good day. But the cards didn’t fall my way. Coming down the stretch, I knew I wasn’t making the cut so I was able to really enjoy it and soak it all in.’’
The round and his U.S. Open experience ended with an 18-foot putt for birdie at the 18th hole.
“I used a (local) caddie for the week, but on the last hole I had my dad (Mike) take the bag,’’ Mr. Naumec said. “I was in the last group, the last person on the course for the day. I ended up making birdie there, so my dad has told me that he’s one-for-one.”
For the record, rounds of 74 and 79 did not advance him to the weekend on which Gary Woodland was crowned champion. But for Mr. Naumec, it was the crowning moment to date of a budding career.
“I wondered how good am I, really?’’ Mr. Naumec asked. “Being there really showed me how much of it is all confidence. I can hit it just as well as everyone, I’m throwing it out there just like the rest of them. The difference is just a few shots. Yes, that’s a lot. But we can figure it out. I could see how close I am, it’s not that far away. If I put my head down and work as hard as I ever have, this is something that could potentially happen. I came out of it knowing that it was inspiring in that aspect.’’
Doug Hutcheson, Naumec’s golf coach at WMA for three years, said it succinctly that “it’s the bucket list of bucket lists . . . of where you want to play and it’s at the U.S. Open.’’
Mr. Hutcheson recalled Mr. Naumec arriving on campus for his sophomore year “on the cusp of becoming a top junior player. He started playing a broader tournament schedule and against top players. He found that everyone he was playing against were guys who were at prep schools. He knew if he could match up well against those guys . . .’’
Mr. Naumec did more than that when he won the New England Prep School Championship in 2013.
“So much of what I learned at WMA, that mentality of being able to concentrate only on what’s in front of me, on what’s most important at that moment . . . that has made all the difference,’’ Mr. Naumec said. “When it was academics, WMA helped me learn how to concentrate on academics and nothing else. In golf, there is nothing on my mind except my next shot. It’s that mindset that has helped me so much.’’
Mr. Hutcheson said it’s no secret that WMA was a springboard for Mr. Naumec.
“At WMA, he focused his life on athletics and academics,’’ Mr. Hutcheson said. “He was always able to stay on task. That put him in the frame of mind to compete like he does. He’s an elite athlete, and you have to have an ordered life. It can’t be haphazard. The work he put in at WMA, that has gone a long way to helping him get this far.’’
Mr. Naumec played at Division I Boston College, where he finished his stellar playing career as captain and with All-Northeast region honors for the third straight year. He graduated with an economics degree in May, turned professional and qualified to play on the Mackenzie Tour/PGA Canada Tour.
To reach the U.S. Open, he advanced through two stages of qualifying, including a 36-hole sectional qualifier in Walla Walla, Washington.
“I’ve never been to a U.S. Open, I’ve never played Pebble Beach . . .’’ Mr. Naumec said after qualifying. “I feel great about my game, and to think I might be hitting balls on the range or playing next to guys like Phil (Mickelson), Tiger (Woods), Rory (McIlroy), DJ (Dustin Johnson) or (Brooks) Koepka . . . that’s just crazy.”
The U.S. Open drew almost 9,000 entries, and Mr. Naumec was one of only 75 to advance from nearly 1,000 golfers who had reached sectional qualifying.
Some accomplishments from Matt Naumec’s golf career:
· New England Prep School individual champion, 2013
· Massachusetts Junior Amateur champion, 2014
· New England Amateur Championship winner, 2015
· Francis Ouimet Memorial tournament champion, 2015
· Three-time All-Northeast and All-New England selection at Boston College
· Competed at the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Four-Ball championships