AUGUSTA, Ga. — Augusta National didn’t faze him, not as he stared down a packed gallery and put a long, arcing drive through the Georgia sunshine, not as he later dunked an approach shot a few feet from the pin while practice partner Rory McIlroy dropped more than one ball in the water.
“That first tee alone, there’s people everywhere, I couldn’t pull the trigger, no way I could hit a ball off the tee,” Matt Parziale’s dad Vic is saying later, quietly thankful that as the caddie, all he had to do was hand his son the proper club. “He hit it straight.”
The media crush hasn’t fazed him either, not as he calmly answered question after question Monday afternoon at the Masters, not as he sat for so many television cameras these past few weeks that his professional colleagues starting calling him “Hollywood,” not as he smilingly admitted, “It’s been long at times, but I never stopped enjoying it.”
Because Matt Parziale gets it. He really does. He may not be fazed by the fuss, but sure does understand it.
If he weren’t living this amazing story, if he weren’t the star of the most improbable Masters story in years, if he were spending yet another year watching the year’s first major from the comfort of his living room couch (or perhaps from a firehouse chair) he would most certainly be all in on a tale like this. But since this story is his, it falls to the rest of us to really revel in the unlikely magic of it all, to watch this 30-year-old amateur golfer and full-time Brockton firefighter win the US Mid-Amateur Championship and earn the most coveted invite in golf, to savor every chance to root for the guy who arrived in Augusta with his fellow firefighting father by his side and a lesson for us all in his bag.
“Oh yeah, it’s incredible,” Matt agreed while taking his unexpected turn in the Masters interview room Monday. “But like you said, I don’t see it that way. Because I’ve obviously lived it. But, no, it’s a great story, and I understand why there’s so much attention.”
“I am surprised by how much attention,” Vic said, “but people love firefighters.”
How could we not?
Hero may be an overused word, particularly when it enters the sports lexicon waged on fields of play rather than those of true battle. But here, inside a man willing to lay his own life on the line every day to protect the imperiled in his struggling, hardscrabble hometown, here, inside a man willing to work multiple 24-hour shifts at one of the busiest ladder companies in the nation to help bust walls and break down ceilings to beat back fire, here, inside a man who has done that and more so many times across the past four years on the job, there is a hero.
And here, inside a man who did it all while continuing to find time for the game he has loved since watching a certain red-shirted kid named Tiger shake the game’s foundation in 1997, here, inside a man who ignored every conventional wisdom about blue-collar kids living in New England winters not being destined for golf greatness, here, inside a man who walked away from the professional grind of the mini tour and took the firefighter test instead, but who couldn’t walk away from the game, there is an inspiration.
From father to son. Like father, like son. Hero and inspiration. What a combination.
“My dad actually just retired in November, and he worked 32 years,” Matt said. “He never missed any hockey game I had so I figured it was a good schedule for me to play competitive golf. Being around the guys growing up, I always enjoyed going to the station and spending time with them. And I knew most of them before I got on, and it’s such a great group of guys. We have such a good time.
“But I don’t think it affects golf in any way. I put a lot of work into preparing for tournaments, and just because I fought a fire doesn’t mean golf’s any easier. It’s different thought, too, where in a fire you’re there with 30 other guys and sometimes you rely on them, they rely on you. On the golf course, you’re by yourself. It’s two separate situations.”
They are all colliding here. Back home at Thorny Lea Golf Club, where Parziale is an honorable heir to the legacy of Hall of Fame member Herbert Warren Wind, famed golf writer who coined the term “Amen Corner,” club manager Chris Barron is opening the doors for the city’s service men and women to watch Parziale compete.
“The actual tournament days, Thursday through Sunday, the city council, the Mayor’s office, the Brockton Police, and Brockton Fire have an open invitation to come to Thorny Lea for drinks, food, and to watch the coverage,” Barron said. “For Matt’s involvement with the city, his father’s 30-plus years, it’s just a natural fit. The club is very supportive of him, and this is such a Brockton story as well. Brockton has its share of challenges, but this a great story.”
One that any town, blue collar or blue blood, struggling or thriving, would be proud of. For Brockton Fire Station No. 1 over on Pleasant Street, for Team 4 that counts Matt as a member (though he’s on leave while golf takes over), there is no other way to feel.
“It’s a tough job because we’re so busy — the station Matt works at, the ladder company, was the seventh busiest in the country last year, and the rescue there, they were the busiest in the US last year,” Brockton Fire Chief Michael Williams said of his 194-member department. “It’s a tough job. There’s not a lot of sitting around in Brockton.
“I’ve known Matt since he was a kid. His dad and I have been friends since we started in the department. They’re great people. This is very exciting and it’s great for the city.”
The true golf test will come Thursday, when the first shot off the first tee counts for real. But whatever is in store for this Brockton kid, the one who had to push his August wedding date back two weeks to account for another tournament, being here is a story worth telling. Over and over again.