The new amateur champion fights fires when he’s not sinking putts

Brockton firefighter Matt Parziale.
John Tlumacki/Globe staff
Brockton firefighter Matt Parziale.

BROCKTON — As his son, a newly minted national amateur champion, stands on the doorsteps of golf’s great cathedrals, Vic Parziale chuckles as he remembers that afternoon a quarter-century ago at the Brockton Fairgrounds.

A bucket of balls, an old club, and three generations of Parziales standing on an improvised practice tee.

“The only thing I remember is that as he followed through, he hit my father in the chest,’’ Parziale recalled. “It wasn’t like the kid was going to be the next Arnold Palmer or anything. But he could make contact.’’


Yes, Matt Parziale could make contact. And, as a little boy, he paid attention. And he archived some fond memories of his own.

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Like many other little boys, he loved the firehouse. The red trucks, the neatly coiled hoses. He dreamed of becoming a firefighter, just like his dad.

“I’d go to the station when I was a little kid,’’ Matt Parziale said the other morning, squinting into a brilliant Indian summer sun at Thorny Lea Golf Club. “I loved it. My dad always loved his career. And that’s why I figured that I’d like it, too.’’

Vic Parziale, 57, is a 32-year veteran of the Brockton Fire Department, where is he is a captain. Matt Parziale, 30, is a firefighter at Station 1 on Pleasant Street.

They’ve stood next to each other, battling smoky house fires in the wintertime.


And they were at each other’s side last weekend, too, when Matt Parziale captured the US Mid-Amateur Championship at a golf course north of Atlanta, a thrilling victory that has earned him improbable invitations to the US Open next June at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., and to the Masters in Augusta, Ga., in April.

The news has electrified the City of Champions, where Matt Parziale has written the latest chapter in Brockton’s storied history of athletic titans like boxing greats Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler.

“I was jumping out of my skin,’’ said Deputy Fire Chief Brian Nardelli, Parziale’s boss. “This is one of our own. He grew up in a middle-class family in a blue-collar city. He has no airs about him. If he walked into this room, you’d never know he was the US Mid-Amateur champion.’’

But he is.

“It’s crazy,’’ Matt Parziale told me. “This is one I’ve worked for, I’ve dreamed of my whole life. It was hard. There was nothing easy about it. I put a lot of work in to get here and I’m proud of that.’’


Five hours after he got home from Atlanta, where he won the title and his ticket to two of golfing’s greatest championships, he was back on Pleasant Street, where there was equipment to repair, emergency calls to answer, and questions from national reporters who wondered about this guy who climbs ladders and sinks putts.

If anyone has appreciation for how difficult, how fickle, how crushing the game of golf can be, it’s Parziale, who has a collection of trophies on his mantel, was All-America in college, and is a former Massachusetts Golf Association player of the year.

He’s practiced the game until his hands have bled.

He spent three years on golf’s minor league circuit before abandoning his life as a touring pro, regaining his amateur status, and settling into the rhythms of life at the firehouse and days off on the fairway, alternating between the ultimate solo sport and a life-or-death job that demands teamwork.

“You’re out there on your own — it’s not basketball,’’ Parziale said of life on the fairway. “You can’t have someone come in for you. When things start going bad, it’s just you.

“When you’re working a fire, you’ve got a whole group of guys around you. It’s teamwork. Everyone has their own job to do. It’s uncontrolled. Every fire is different. Every car accident’s different. Everything we do is different every day. The guys that we have? They’re awesome.’’

Awesome. It’s a vastly overused adjective, but those who have watched Parziale closely on the golf course over the years say it’s apt.

“You’re not doing it for your teammates, you’re not doing it for your coach, you’re doing it for yourself,’’ said Steve Tasho, a former two-time state amateur champion whom Parziale credits with teaching him course management and how to win. “It’s great to see someone who puts the time and effort in, and is a
good human being, win that tournament.’’

Back at the firehouse, Brian Nardelli is nodding his head.

“Phenomenal kid. I wish I could clone him,’’ said Nardelli. “He’s a hard worker who follows direction. He was raised the right way. He is someone you would want your daughter to marry.’’

Too late for that.

Matt Parziale has already met the woman he is going to marry. Her name is Ali Hubbard. They met when she was at dental school at Boston University. The Buffalo native is now Dr. Ali Hubbard, and she was on the Crabapple course at the Capital City Club north of Atlanta when Parziale won the title earlier this month.

In an instant, big plans changed. That 8/18/18 wedding date, the one with wonderful numeric symmetry? It now conflicts with the US Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach, to which Parziale has also been invited.

“Try telling a woman to change her wedding date,’’ he said. “The fact that she’s OK with that, that’s the biggest thing. And she is awesome.’’

There’s that word again.

And while it’s still in the air, Parziale says he wants to wrap his arms around all of it. The daunting logistics. The media interest. The extension of his golf season that usually, by this time of year, is headed for the back burner.

“It’s a good problem to have,’’ he said. “This is what I’ve dreamed of my entire life. That’s why I’m embracing it.’’

His caddy, Vic, dreams of golf glory for his son. He has already begun to imagine the drive toward the clubhouse at Augusta under that famous canopy of old, majestic magnolia trees.

But he wants something else for his son, too.

“I’d like to see him make the cut in at least one of these tournaments,’’ Vic Parziale said. “And have a good family. Have a good life. Do the right thing. Everyone says he’s a better person than he is a golfer. I agree 100 percent.’’

Matt Parziale said he knows that unless lightning strikes, his work life will revolve around a firehouse in Brockton.

“I’m lucky enough to have two things that I love,’’ he said. “My dad loved it and I saw the fact that he loved it. I couldn’t ask for a better dad. He’s always supported me. Whatever your perfect dad is — that’s him to me.’’

It’s a father-and-son pair that has an unusual bond, tethered together as family, colleagues, and on the golf course, where the player and his
caddy will be on the emerald lawn at Augusta National Golf Club next spring.

When they get to the fairway on No. 11, they’ll be at the beginning of Augusta’s famous Amen Corner. It’s a three-hole stretch of the course on which many Masters championships have been secured or squandered.

Matt Parziale, of course, knows who coined that phrase —

Herbert Warren Wind, who for 50 years covered golf for Sports Illustrated and The New Yorker.

Like Parziale, Wind was a son of Brockton, who learned to love the game at Thorny Lea Golf Club.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at