Despite playoff pain, Mattiace cherishes Masters experience

By Will GrayApril 4, 2013, 12:00 pm

Their names remain etched in the annals of Masters history; though, not necessarily in the portion they would prefer.

Sneed. Pohl. Hoch. DiMarco. Campbell.

Players for whom a Sunday round amid the fabled pines of Augusta National brought them to the cusp of golfing immortality – but no further.

It’s been 10 years since Len Mattiace added his name to that collection, to the group of players that came tantalizingly close to slipping on a green jacket. Ten years since the hard work of a final-round 65 was undone by a double bogey on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff with eventual champion Mike Weir.

“I think I’ve always called it a 98-percent great week,” he recalled last month.

Ninety-eight percent. Remarkably close to the end goal, but ultimately falling short in the 2003 Masters.

‘It was just stressful’

The roots for his performance that week can be traced back to early 2002, when the New York native captured the Northern Trust Open for his first career PGA Tour victory. Unfortunately for Mattiace, his maiden win came in a brief period where the Masters suspended its policy of automatically inviting players who won regular PGA Tour events.

“That was a bummer, that was disappointing,” he said of missing the 2002 edition. “I had won at Riviera and played really good; I finished third at Bay Hill as well. I just didn’t get in by the qualifications.”


Baggs: Weir overcomes odds – oddities – to win 2003 Masters


A second victory later that summer in Memphis, however, was enough to secure a trip down Magnolia Lane for Mattiace the following spring. It would mark his second-career appearance at Augusta National, having missed the cut in 1988 as an amateur after making the field by virtue of his spot on the U.S. Walker Cup team the year prior.

“Every time you go there, it’s a big thrill and a great experience,” he spoke of Augusta National Golf Club. “I thought I’d be back sooner than that, that’s for sure.”

Upon arriving at Augusta that April, though, he was greeted by some of the poorest weather conditions in Masters history, which Mattiace felt put a relatively short hitter like himself at an immediate disadvantage.

As driving rains forced the postponement of practice rounds and even washed out the opening day of play Thursday, he was left to deal with hours of idle time, often a golfer’s biggest enemy.

“It was just stressful,” he said. “You’re sitting around and you’re probably thinking more than what you should be thinking. I mean, it’s just stress.”

When play finally began, with a compressed schedule both Friday and Saturday, Mattiace did little to stand out among the 93-player field. Rounds of 73-74 left him outside the top 20 heading into the third round, when a quick chat late in the day with his brother provided some timely motivation.

“With about four holes left on Saturday night, I was going around and I could have easily just kind of lost my focus, because there were some long days,” said Mattiace, who began his third round on the 10th hole. “My brother was off the sixth green and he said, ‘Hang in there, Len, make some birdies coming in.’ And just that little thing was great to hear. I end up doing that, I birdied three out of the four and put myself in position.”

A 3-under 69 Saturday brought Mattiace back to even par for the week and meant he would begin the final round tied for eighth, just five shots behind leader Jeff Maggert.

“I went back that night and just thought about what I could possibly do on Sunday,” said Mattiace, whose best career finish then was a tie for 24th at the 1997 U.S. Open. “I knew pretty much how the course was going to play, and everyone knows where the pins most likely will be. I had a game plan to just press the accelerator a little bit harder. I wanted to see if I could basically play the way I knew I could play.”


Len Mattiace

‘Things were happening for me’

The final round at the Masters carries with it added pressure – conditions far more intense than a typical Sunday on Tour. The ambiance for participants prior to the final round in 2003 was no exception.

“In that locker room before the round, it was quiet. Nobody was saying anything,” said Mattiace, who played the final round alongside Jonathan Byrd. “I kind of took a second and realized everyone was sitting at a different table, eating a sandwich, and I thought, ‘Hmm, this is a little different.’”

As he got set to begin his round Sunday, the magnitude of the situation began to sink in for Mattiace.

“I was super nervous starting. That first hole was the most nervous I had been all week,” he explained. “But as the holes got going on, things were happening for me.”

Those things included a birdie on the par-5 second, which was followed by another at the third. He remained 2 under heading to the eighth hole, where his approach to the par-5 came up short, leaving a difficult pitch.

“I had a very tight lie to a very tight pin over a big mound,” he recalled of his fourth shot. “When I hit the shot it came off just right, so I knew it was going to be close. Then by the reaction of the crowd, I had heard it went in.”

What loomed as a possible bogey just minutes prior was suddenly an unexpected birdie, the third of the day for Mattiace and one that moved him firmly into contention heading into the back nine.

Aided by a lengthy birdie at No. 10, Mattiace was 4 under, both for the day and the week, as he stood in the 13th fairway. There, he faced a shot for which he had been preparing since the year prior.

“I had been practicing that shot for months,” he said of the approach to the par-5 13th. “When I went to play the course back in December, I was terrible on a right-to-left, 5-wood shot. I was just awful.

“I knew that I would probably have that shot again during the week, and I didn’t want to be terrible. So I practiced that one a lot.”

After laying up in each of the first three rounds, Mattiace finally got a chance to put the practice to use Sunday, carving a 5-wood from 224 yards that carried the hazard in front of the green by the slimmest of margins.

Having gambled with Rae’s Creek and won, Mattiace went on to hole the short putt for eagle, which took him to 6 under and gave him sole possession of the lead – though he didn’t know it at the time. In fact, even after a birdie on 15 moved him to 7 under on a course that had yielded no better than a 66 to any player all week, Mattiace kept his eyes from any of the leaderboards lining the course.

“When I birdied 15, I just knew that I was the guy. I didn’t have to see a scoreboard; you just know,” he explained. “You know when the cameras are on you, the people are shouting stuff. You just know. So I knew going to 16, this is a bigger deal now because of what I’m doing.”

Whatever nerves may have emerged heading to the picturesque par-3, Mattiace put them to rest in time to strike an approach that barely left the flag, setting up his eighth birdie of the day.

“I do recall that shot a lot,” he said of the 5-iron that rolled to within feet of the pin. “That’s a smile. When I put my head down on the pillow, I smile about that one.”

Heading to the 72nd hole, Mattiace was still in the lead, but faced a shot that he struggled with all week.

“I think visually it’s a very intimidating tee shot,” said Mattiace, who had bogeyed the 18th hole in the second and third rounds. “If I hit the fairway, it might have been a different deal.”

Instead, he watched intently as his final regulation tee shot bled toward the trees lining the right side of the 18th fairway, settling in pine straw rather than grass.

It was only at this point, having just struck his 61st shot of the day, that Mattiace allowed himself a glance at the leaderboard.

“That gave me the information that I don’t have to do anything crazy here. I can maybe have a putt for par and see what the guys, Mike (Weir) specifically, can do,” he said of the situation facing him on the final hole. “I had no choice on 18, I was so blocked out. I didn’t have any openings.”

After punching back out into the fairway, Mattiace’s third shot carried to the back fringe behind the hole. The putt for par was a quick one – but not as quick as he anticipated.

“You’re putting away from the clubhouse so everybody knows it’s fast. It was a little down and up,” he said of the 30-foot putt that would have earned Mattiace a green jacket. “I just forgot the up part.”

After playing 17 holes without error, Mattiace was now faced with an 8-foot putt to save bogey. Despite the circumstances, his belief never wavered.

“I just had supreme, high confidence that I was going to make that putt,” he noted. “There wasn’t a doubt.”

As the surrounding gallery held its collective breath, the putt caught the side of the hole and fell. With a lone blemish on 18, Mattiace was in the clubhouse after a 7-under 65.

Then the wait began.


Len Mattiace

‘I just pulled it a little bit’

Despite the closing bogey, Mattiace had set the clubhouse lead – a number that only Weir could likely reach or surpass at that point. Though he had just played the round of his life on Sunday at Augusta National, Mattiace had little time to reflect on what he had just accomplished.

“I went into the cabin just to kind of get a sense of where I was,” he explained. “Then I met up with (swing coach) Jim McLean and we decided to go to the range and warm up, because there might be a playoff.”

When Weir holed a par putt on 18 – one that mirrored the length of Mattiace’s bogey putt nearly 40 minutes earlier – the playoff was set. For the first time since 1990, sudden death would be used to determine a winner. Both in search of their first career major title, the two remaining participants headed to the par-4 10th for the first playoff hole.

“I was way more nervous on the first tee that day than when I was in the playoff on the 10th tee,” recalled Mattiace, who like Weir found the fairway with his tee shot at the 73rd hole.

When their approach shots were struck minutes later, though, the paths of Mattiace and Weir would forever diverge.

“I hit a solid shot, I just pulled it a little bit,” Mattiace said of the 6-iron that bounded left of the 10th green, while Weir found the surface with his approach. “You don’t want to be left, but it’s not like it’s over. That’s not the place you want to be, but I thought I would go deal with it and see what I can get.”

Instead, Mattiace would soon discover he had cruelly been dealt a bad break on the game’s biggest stage. Though only a few yards off the green, his ball had come to rest directly behind a small tree, rendering a direct chip to the hole impossible.

'The odds of a ball being directly behind a tree in line with a pin,' he wondered. 'I mean, what are the odds?'

Forced to pitch well to the right of the hole, Mattiace was now faced with a lengthy par putt while Weir had a birdie try of similar length from the front of the green. However, both players were unaware that the condition of the green at “Camellia” had changed since they had played it in regulation.

Having been rolled prior to the playoff, the surface was playing even faster than it had hours earlier and both players raced their putts well past the hole. Mattiace ran his nearly off the green, though, and had to attempt his bogey putt before Weir putted for par.

Though it was one of the more pivotal putts of his career, he recalls almost nothing about the shot that essentially sealed his fate.

“I honestly don’t even remember that putt,” said Mattiace. “When I putt, things go quiet. So I do know that on that putt it was quiet, but I just don’t remember the putt.

“Maybe it’s my mind blanking it out for a certain reason, but I just don’t remember it.”

With that, his final-round comeback was over. Weir would don the green jacket minutes later, while Mattiace was left to lament what might have been.

He could never have imagined that, 10 years later, he has yet to record another top-10 finish at a PGA Tour event.


Len Mattiace

‘Hard to put a finger on it’

As a result of his runner-up at Augusta, Mattiace moved inside the top 25 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He went on to complete an otherwise solid – though unspectacular – 2003 campaign, making the cut in 14 of his remaining 17 starts, but finishing inside the top 20 only once, when he tied for 14th at the Canadian Open.

That December, though, his career took a painful turn.

“It was supposed to just be a two-day trip to enjoy with some guys,” he said. “I fell skiing; it was just a freak fall.”

The accident had catastrophic consequences for Mattiace, who tore the ACL in both knees. The injury shelved him until the following March, though in hindsight his return to competitive golf may have been premature.

“I got into a lot of bad swing habits after that accident,” said Mattiace, who posted just one top-25 finish in 25 starts during the 2004 season, missing the cut 13 times. “I was not the golfer that I really ever knew.”

One of those starts came at the Masters, where he was again eligible based on his high finish the year prior. Mattiace shot 76-75 to miss the cut in his third, and to date, final, appearance at Augusta National.

From that point, things only got worse.

He played the weekend only nine times in 34 starts during 2005, the last for which he was fully exempt on the PGA Tour. Things would bottom out in 2007, when Mattiace made 26 combined starts on the PGA and Web.com tours.

He missed the cut 24 times, including in all 10 PGA Tour events he entered.

“It was just bad swing habits that developed, and because of that I hit a ton of bad golf shots,” he explained. “It was tough; it was very tough to take.”

In the subsequent years, Mattiace has seen his schedule shift more predominantly to the ‘developmental’ circuit. He has made the cut in a PGA Tour event just three times since 2009, most recently at last year’s True South Classic, where he tied for 31st.

“It’s hard to put a finger on it,” he explained. “If I could put a finger on it, I would have done it eight years ago.”

This season, Mattiace will again play his golf on the Web.com Tour, having started strongly with a tie for fourth in the season-opening event in Panama in February. At 45 years old, he remains firmly committed to a return to the PGA Tour.

“I’ve been playing better than I ever have,” said Mattiace, who this week is in the field for the Brasil Classic in Sao Paulo. “It’s a challenge to me because of my age and where I’ve been the last few years, but I think with a little bit of good play, I can get on a roll.”

For Mattiace, the passion and determination that drove him earlier in his career remain as potent as ever.

“If I stopped playing, I’d be a fool because I still have those things driving me,” he added. “And I’d probably be unhappy.”

Though he currently ranks No. 898 in the world, Mattiace remains confident that his play is moving in the right direction.

“This game is all about peaks and valleys,” he noted astutely. “I feel like I’m on the upswing right now.”


Len Mattiace

‘You want to beat all the guys’

Ten years removed from his fleeting moment on the landscape of major championship golf, Mattiace has had time to put the experience of 2003 into what he feels is the proper perspective.

“I played fantastic that Sunday, and I think 99 percent of the golfers who compete, they’ll never do that,” he said of his final round. “Just by the numbers, they’ll never do that. So it’s an accomplishment in that sense.”

At the same time, some of the wounds from having come so close to a major title remain slow to heal. Rarely does golf pit one individual directly against another; the sting of having fallen short in just that setup still lingers for Mattiace.

“That’s sport. You want to win the playoff; you want to beat the other guy. You want to beat all the guys,” Mattiace explained. “That playoff, to this day, it’s very tough to know that on that level, I lost. I lost and I didn’t win it. That bites at me.”

Now he finds himself among a select group of players for whom one shot – whether a missed putt Thursday or an errant drive Sunday – ultimately meant the difference between winning and losing one of golf’s biggest events.

“Obviously for people who lose playoffs in majors, what could have been is huge. It’s huge,” said Mattiace, one of 30 players to lose a major championship playoff in the last 30 years. “People who win majors, they receive all those benefits and all the great stuff, not to mention part of history that you were on the winning side.

“But when you lose … it’s tough to take when you’re that close,” he added.

The pain of his near miss aside, Mattiace still looks back fondly upon that one week 10 springs ago, when each facet of his game aligned at just the right time. A decade later, the disappointment of the playoff loss does not match the joy derived from the overall experience.

“It’s a great thing to look back on, because it was a performance that was very, very good,” he noted. “You’d be a fool to not look back and realize what a great week that was.”

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern of architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.

Class of 2011: For some, the struggle is real

By Will GrayNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

They all have stories.

Tales about the time that they went toe to toe with a future major champ, or maybe even clipped him by a shot. Memories of walking the range just a few short years ago and viewing some of golf’s brightest stars simply as peers.

The Class of 2011 continues to expand its collective footprint on the national stage, but it extends beyond names like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. In almost every field at every level of professional golf, there are players from that prodigious class, each still straddling the divide between memories of the past and dreams for the future.

Once junior competitors, they are now young men entrenched in their mid-20s. And while some of their former classmates have already piled up long lists of achievements, dozens more are still fighting for status on the various echelons of golf’s meritocracy.

Their common goal remains a simple one: join former classmates on the big stage as soon as possible.


Michael Johnson at the 2016 Barbasol Championship (Getty Images)


Michael Johnson gets asked about it a couple times per year.

When The Players Championship rolls around in mid-May, his phone lights up with calls or texts about the time that he topped an elite field on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

It was the 2010 AJGA Junior Players Championship, and its leaderboard could pass for a current-day PGA Tour event. Spieth was a runner-up alongside Emiliano Grillo, while Patrick Rodgers was seventh. Daniel Berger and Ollie Schniederjans tied for eighth.

But the man with the trophy was Johnson, who also ended up sixth in the final AJGA/Polo recruiting rankings for the Class of 2011 – ahead of the likes of Grillo, Berger and Schniederjans.

“Obviously that Junior Players is something I look back on, and it puts a smile on my face,” Johnson said.

He went on to have a successful career at Auburn, including first-team All-American honors his senior year. A hip injury led to a redshirt season and dropped him a year behind his classmates, but he graduated in the summer of 2016 and quickly turned pro.

Johnson’s PGA Tour debut revealed just how thin the margin can be between the fast track to stardom and a more arduous battle. Playing on a sponsor invite at the Barbasol Championship, he finished third.

Officials told him that based on the non-member FedExCup points he earned, Johnson could expect a spot in the Web.com Tour Finals that fall and a chance to play for a PGA Tour card. At worst, he’d lock up Web.com status for 2017.

But the numbers didn’t pan out as expected, and even after Monday qualifying for the season-ending Wyndham Championship, Johnson knew he had work to do. But he missed the cut by a shot.

With the top 200 in points qualifying for the Finals, Johnson finished 201st.

“It was pretty tough, honestly,” he said. “I was on such a high that whole summer and came crashing down pretty quickly.”

Instead of a shot at the PGA Tour, Johnson tumbled all the way down to the ground floor: the first stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

“It was kind of funny,” he said. “I’d be on the range and my friends would be like, ‘Why are you here?’ I’d be like, ‘Well, I’ve got to go through Q-School, just the same as you.’”

Johnson played his way up, one level at a time, before ultimately earning his Web.com card for 2017 and retaining it for the upcoming season. This fall he watched on TV as several of the players he beat that memorable week at TPC Sawgrass competed at the Presidents Cup.

Johnson still awaits his next opportunity, and the confidence that he’ll soon join former classmates on a full-time basis hasn’t wavered.

“I would say that people, they don’t know how hard it is,” Johnson said. “People are just confused, thinking golf is just a recreational sport and you’re out there having fun. But it’s just like any other sport in that it’s so hard to get into the big leagues.”


Morgan Hoffmann, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Byron Meth at the 2015 Masters (Getty Images)


For Byron Meth, the questions always trace back to the 2015 Masters.

That’s when the winner of the final U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship made his Augusta National debut. As he soaked in the azaleas, Meth asked to join Morgan Hoffmann for a Tuesday practice round. Hoffmann told him simply to turn up to the 10th tee to see who they were facing.

Their opponents for the day turned out to be Spieth and Brooks Koepka.

“It was a little reminiscent of our AJGA days, but more so our college practice rounds,” Meth recalled. “We were just hitting shots and telling stories. Just kind of hung out and embraced the day.”

Five days later, Meth watched the kid from Texas he had known for years slip into a green jacket. Inevitably, reporters wanted to know what sort of spark he had seen from Spieth in their practice round together.

“Jordan didn’t look any different that day than he did when we were kids,” Meth explained. “But the confidence was definitely way higher because of his success.”

Growing up in Southern California, Meth’s duels with reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele date back to their high school days. Meth was 26th in the final recruiting rankings, one spot ahead of current PGA Tour player C.T. Pan, and it was qualifying for the Masters that convinced Meth that his game was strong enough to compete on an elite level.

That belief was quickly reinforced in his first event as a pro, a pre-qualifier for the 2016 Sony Open. He advanced, then went on to Monday qualify for the main event.

It was success beyond anything that he could have anticipated, but it’s a result that now elicits a sigh.

“It kind of sounds strange, but Monday-ing into the Sony might have been one of the worst things that happened to me in 2016,” he said. “I made the mistake of having expectations. I thought it was going to happen like that all the time.”

As many other pros can attest, easy success is either fleeting or entirely non-existent. Meth quickly learned that lesson, and like Johnson became the victim of razor-thin margins. He missed the cut in the first stage of Web.com Q-School by a shot last year, and fell short by the same number this year. In between, he spent his months toiling on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and now faces a similarly uncertain future in the spring.

The rigors of Q-School do not show favor to former major participants, nor do they offer midseason reprieves for those who fail to advance. Meth is back to the drawing board, fully aware of the uphill battle that awaits.

But he remains imbued with confidence from his week at Augusta National, a brief stint alongside the game’s best where he had a front-row seat for the pinnacle of Spieth’s career.

“I asked him that day, ‘It doesn’t look like you’re doing anything different physically than you did when we were kids,’” Meth said. “He goes, ‘I just had an opportunity to play, and I took advantage of it.’”


Joseph Winslow competing on the 2017 Latinoamerica Tour (Getty Images)


As one of the top junior golfers in the Kansas City area, Joseph Winslow had a keen eye for other Midwest names on the leaderboard. One, in particular, continued to stand out.

“I would look at the standings and saw this kid from Avon, Indiana,” Winslow said. “And I was just wondering like, ‘What’s his deal? Why is he winning, what’s he doing?’”

That kid turned out to be Rodgers, who went on to a decorated career at Stanford and has won more than $4 million on Tour. As the No. 18 recruit in the Class of 2011, according to AJGA/Polo rankings, Winslow saw plenty of Rodgers growing up. But he also ventured south to challenge elite fields that featured Spieth, Thomas and Grillo.

“I think if you look at the invitationals from late 2010 into 2011, those were probably some of the strongest fields ever in AJGA, junior golf history, when you look at current players today,” Winslow said.

He committed to Iowa, and as freshman tied for 13th alongside Rodgers at the 2012 NCAAs. Days later, Spieth edged Thomas in a memorable match at Riviera while helping Texas win a team national title.

The chilly winter weather led him to transfer to the University of South Florida, and Winslow’s first move after turning pro was to qualify for the Asian Tour. But the status he earned didn’t make the extensive travel worthwhile, so he opted to spend his first summer scratching out checks closer to home on the Adams Pro Tour.

“It was a little bit of culture shock starting out, turning up to golf courses and seeing greens with weeds on them,” he said. “Just stuff that you’ve never experienced before, and that’s part of the life.”

This year Winslow gained a foothold with status on PGA Tour LatinoAmerica, and he’s been giving his passport a workout ever since. A pro for less than three years, he estimates that he’s already teed it up in 21 different countries in search of a path that will earn him another tee time next to Rodgers.

“My goal is to be out there on the PGA Tour, playing with the guys I’ve been playing with my whole life,” he said. “We’re just working our way back up, putting in the time that you have to, and take advantage of your opportunities when you get them.”


Stephen Behr at the 2017 Amateur Championship. (courtesy: Stephen Behr)


Stephen Behr knew that the sound was just different.

It was at the 2010 AJGA Polo Golf Classic that Behr, No. 11 in the Class of 2011, looked around him on the driving range and found all the usual suspects: Spieth, Thomas, Grillo, Schniederjans.

“Berger wasn’t even that good back then,” Behr recalled. “And now he’s a stud.”

Going through his own warm-up routine, Behr took in the sights. But he listened even more intently, focusing on the sounds of future major champions making crisp contact each and every time. Whoosh. Whoosh.

And it was the sound that gave him pause, even at age 17.

“It was just like, it almost made you feel bad about your game,” he said. “You’d watch them hit it and it was like, I’ve got training wheels on and they’re in Ferraris.”

That realization is a big reason why Behr, an accomplished player who earned All-American honors during his senior year at Clemson, now works as a risk consultant with Ernst & Young. His battles with the stars from his graduating class are now entirely in the rear-view mirror, a wistful recollection of time spent in the arena.

“I don’t think I ever beat Spieth,” he said. “I think my record against him is like 0-52. I never beat him because his off weeks, I feel like he still finished third.”

While Behr didn’t turn pro after graduation, his clubs aren’t exactly collecting dust. His amateur ranking based on his final days at Clemson was good enough to gain entry into the British Amateur this summer, and these days the self-described “weekend warrior” carries a plus-3.2 handicap.

“I can still get it around, man,” Behr said. “I’m just not quite as sharp as I used to be.”

Behr excelled both in the classroom and on the course at Clemson. Afforded the option of a promising gig in finance with ample on-course networking opportunities, he happily headed for corporate America while some of his former peers were busy racking up trophies.

“A lot of people, when I tell them that I played with those guys, they think that maybe I just played like in one tournament against them,” he said. “But like, no. I actually played in the same group with them, and competed with them.”

Behr explained that while his time against such top-tier talent created great memories, it also affected his career choice. Perhaps, he admitted, he might have tried the pro golf circuit had he been a member of the Class of 2010 or 2012.

Instead, he was constantly flanked on the range by Ferraris.

Behr still plans to remain active in amateur golf, and next year will take his first crack at the U.S. Mid-Amateur. A win there would earn him a spot in two majors, and perhaps a chance to improve his record against Spieth.

Until then, he’s able to reflect fondly from an office chair on memorable days gone by.

“I’m glad I got into those AJGAs and got to compete against them, and see first-hand how impressive they were,” he said. “I think this 2011 class, I’ll look back when I’m a granddad and be telling my grandkids about some of these guys that I got to play with.”

Class of 2011: Who's got next?

By Rex HoggardNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

The sprawling legacy of the Class of 2011 can be traced to any number of origins, but for some among what is arguably the most prolific class ever, it all began in June 2009.

The 99-player field that descended on Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., for the AJGA’s FootJoy Invitational included Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and so many others, like Michael Kim, who up to that moment had experienced the weight of the ’11 class only from afar.

“It was that year that Justin won the FootJoy Invitational and that got him into [the Wyndham Championship]," Kim recalled. "That was my first invitational and I was like 'these guys are so good’ and I was blown away by what they were shooting. I remember being shocked by how good they were at that time.”

Tom Lovelady, who like former Cal-Berkeley Bear Kim is now on the PGA Tour, remembers that tournament as the moment when he started to realize how special this particular group could be, as well as the genesis of what has become lifetime friendships.

In the third round, Lovelady was paired with Spieth.

“We kind of hit it off and became friends after that," Lovelady recalled. "The final round I got paired with Justin Thomas and we became friends. On the 10th hole I asked [Thomas], ‘Where do you want to go to school?’ He said, ‘Here. Here or Alabama.’ My first reaction was, ‘Don’t go to Alabama.’ He’s like, ‘Why?’ I wanted to go there. I knew the class was strong and they only had so many spots, but that’s where I really wanted to go.”

Both ended up in Tuscaloosa, and both won an NCAA title during their time in college. They also solidified a friendship that endures to this day in South Florida where they live and train together.

While the exploits of Thomas, Spieth and Daniel Berger are well documented, perhaps the most impressive part of the ’11 class is the depth that continues to develop at the highest level.

To many, it’s not a question as to whether the class will have another breakout star, it’s when and who?



There’s a good chance that answer could have been found on the tee sheet for last week’s RSM Classic, a lineup that included Class of ’11 alums Lovelady; Kim; Ollie Schniederjans, a two-time All-American at Georgia Tech; Patrick Rodgers, Stanford's all-time wins leader alongside Tiger Woods; and C.T. Pan, a four-time All-American at the University of Washington.

Lovelady earned his Tour card this year via the Web.com Tour, while Schniederjans and Rodgers are already well on their way to the competitive tipping point of Next Level.

Rodgers, who joined the Tour in 2015, dropped a close decision at the John Deere Classic in July, where he finished a stroke behind winner Bryson DeChambeau; and Schniederjans had a similar near-miss at the Wyndham Championship.

To those who have been conditioned by nearly a decade of play, it’s no surprise that the class has embraced a next-man-up mentality. Nor is it any surprise, at least for those who were forged by such an exceedingly high level of play, that success has seemed to be effortless.

“First guy I remember competing against at a high level was Justin. We were playing tournaments at 10, 11 years old together,” Rodgers said. “He was really, really good at that age and I wasn’t really good and so he was always my benchmark and motivated me to get better.”

That symbiotic relationship hasn’t changed. At every level the group has been challenged, and to a larger degree motivated, by the collective success.

By all accounts, it was Spieth who assumed the role of standard-bearer when he joined the Tour in 2013 and immediately won. For Rodgers, however, the epiphany arrived a year later as he was preparing to play a college event in California and glanced up at a television to see his former rival grinding down the stretch at Augusta National.

“Jordan’s leading the Masters. A couple years before we’d been paired together battling it out at this exact same college event,” he laughed. “I think I even won the tournament. It was just crazy for me to see someone who is such a peer, someone I was so familiar with up there on the biggest stage.”

It was a common theme for many among the Class of ’11 as Spieth, Thomas and others emerged, and succeeded, on a world stage. If familiarity can breed contempt, in this case it created a collective confidence.

Success on Tour has traditionally come slowly for new pros, the commonly held belief being that it took younger players time to evolve into Tour professionals. That’s no longer the case, the byproduct of better coaching, training and tournaments for juniors and top-level amateurs.

But for the Class of ’11, that learning curve was accelerated by the economies of scale. The quality and quantity of competition for the class has turned out to be a fundamental tenet to the group’s success.

“Since the mindset of the class has been win, win, win, you don’t know anything other than that, it’s never been just be good enough,” Lovelady said. “You don’t think about being top 125 [on the FedExCup points list], you think about being as high as you can instead of just trying to make the cut, or just keep your card. It’s all you’ve known since you were 14, 15 years old.”

It’s a unique kind of competitive Darwinism that has allowed the class to separate itself from others, an ever-present reality that continues to drive the group.

“It was constantly in my head motivating me,” Rodgers said. “Then you see Jordan turn pro and have immediate success and Justin turn pro and have immediate success. It’s kind of the fuel that drives me. What makes it special is these guys have always motivated me, maybe even more so than someone like Tiger [Woods].”

The domino effect seems obvious, inevitable even, with the only unknown who will be next?

“That’s a good question; I’d like for it to be myself,” Lovelady said. “But it’s hard to say it’s going to be him, it’s going to be him when it could be him. There are just so many guys.”