Firefighter Matt Parziale to tackle Augusta

He qualified for the Masters, but firefighter Matt Parziale was more concerned about getting back for work the next day.

After winning last year’s US Mid-Amateur tournament to book his slot at Augusta, Parziale became stuck in traffic and missed his early flight back to Boston.

“(We) got pushed back to about 10 o’clock flight,” Parziale told CNN’s Don Riddell at Augusta Tuesday.

“That got delayed. I think we landed in Boston around 1:00, 1:30 and got home around 2:00.

“Then I was at work at 7:00. So it was a quick turnaround.”

The annual US Mid-Amateur tournament — open to any golfer aged 25 and over who can boast a USGA handicap of 3.4 or lower — provides the winner entry to both that year’s Masters and US Open.

Of the six amateurs who will compete at this year’s Masters, five are juniors ages between 17 and 22. The sixth is 30-year-old Parziale, who works in his home town of Brockton, Massachusetts.

Like many of the other amateurs at Augusta, Parziale had aspirations of making it as a professional golfer. He played on the mini-tours for three years but a lack financial resources meant he had to hand in his professional license and return to amateur status.

“I didn’t have much success,” Parziale said. “I enjoyed it though because I was playing at a high level. I didn’t really have many times where I thought I was playing that bad.

“But I wasn’t making any money. So, yeah, it was just a decision I made, and it was I never regretted it.”

Parziale is adamant, however, that his appearance at Augusta this week is not his “second chance.”

“I don’t look at it as a second chance, I look at it as I just never stopped trying to compete at the highest level,” he says. “And that will never stop.

“I don’t know what it will lead to but that’s something that will never change. It kind of keeps me going, playing competitive golf and trying to get better every day.”

Golfing roots

It was his father, Vic, that Parziale got into both golf and firefighting.

As a 5-year-old, Parziale would go with both his father and his grandfather to the fairground in Brockton, about a 40-minute drive south of Boston, to hit golf balls.

It was only another three or so years before he would go on to play competitive golf on courses in the area.

The first Masters that Parziale can remember watching was in 1997 as a 9-year-old, when a certain Tiger Woods won his first green jacket at Augusta.

“Being able to watch him the next 10 years as I was growing into the game just got me into the competitive mode and he was so fun to watch,” Parziale recalls.

“So it’s great he’s playing good again and it will be a fun week. It would be great to play with Tiger, but he’s in high demand. So if that happens great, if not no big deal.

“I played with Rory (McIlroy) today that was a great experience. He was awesome. We had great conversations about golf, about life, he’s a great person.”

Instead, Parziale will play the opening two rounds alongside Canada’s former champion Mike Weir and the USA’s Brendan Steele.

While most top-level athletes with media training would be all to happy to appease journalist’s questions with how firefighting helps his golf game, the straight-talking Parziale doesn’t sugar-coat his answers.

“I don’t think it affects golf in any way,” he explains. “I put a lot of work into preparing for tournaments and just because I fought a fire, doesn’t mean golf’s any easier.

“But it’s different, too, where in a fire you’re there with 30 other guys sometimes and you rely them, they rely on you. On the golf course you’re by yourself. So it’s two separate situations.”

Parziale is humble about his profession and somewhat reluctant to speak about his experiences as a firefighter.

Beyond admitting “it’s a dangerous job,” he quickly extinguishes prying questions about specific hairy moments, though does add, when fighting a fire, “It’s pitch black. It’s not like the movies.”

But he is happy to talk about his proudest moment on the job, fighting a fire beside his father just before he retired.

“That was awesome,” he recalls with joy. “He retired in November and we only worked a short time together so there’s a small window and they don’t put family members in the same group.

“I was working overtime in his group one night and we got a fire together, so that was great, we had a blast.”

‘I don’t think I can caddie at the Masters’

In entirely different surroundings, Parziale will again have his father beside him this week, this time as caddie during the tournament at Augusta.

Despite having caddied for his son for the best part of 15 years, Vic was still surprised to be given the nod for the Masters.

“We were taking a shower after I had won the Mid Am,” Parziale recalls. “And the first thing he said was: ‘I don’t think I can caddie at the Masters.’

“I said: ‘What do you mean?’ And he said: ‘I can’t read the putts.’ But he hasn’t read a putt for me in 12 years, so I don’t know why he thought he would start now.

“We have had a great time together. He’s probably been doing it 15 years for me. So it’s a blast. We don’t really talk about golf out there, just other stuff, and we have a lot of fun.”

There will be a certain pressure on the pair’s shoulders this week, hailing from a town which can boast significant Masters history.

The late, revered sports writer Herbert Warren Wind was born in Brockton and learned the game at the same place Parziale did, Thorny Lea Golf Club.

Graduating from Yale and receiving a master’s degree in English literature from Cambridge University, Wind went on to write for The New Yorker and Sports Illustrated, among other publications, and was even a gifted enough golfer to compete at the 1950 British Amateur Championship.

And it was Wind who coined the phrase “Amen Corner,” which refers to holes 11, 12 and 13 at Augusta, where plenty of Masters dreams have gone to either die or be ignited.

“He got inducted into the hall of fame 10 years ago and Thorny Lea has a tournament named after him,” Parziale says. “(We get) a lot of pride from him being a member there.”

Far from believing his place at this year’s competition is down to fate, Parziale credits his grind and love of the sport for getting him to the grandest stage of all.

“I did all I could to make it happen,” he says. “Even when I’ve been playing bad or having a rough time with the game, I’ve never not enjoyed trying to get better — and that’s just kind of what keeps me going.

“I wouldn’t have put all the work in if I didn’t think it was possible, but I’ve enjoyed doing it.

“I’m just so into the process of competing and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I get away from that, then I’m not doing what I enjoy. So that’s where I stand and that’s why I play golf.”