That time a PGA Tour player three-putted to avoid a course record
Len Mattiace is a two-time PGA Tour winner, likely most well-known for firing a 7-under 65 in the final round of the 2003 Masters to play his way into a playoff.
Mike Weir would win that Sunday at Augusta National, but your heart went out to an emotional Mattiace in the aftermath, as he described what it was like to have a chance to win the coveted green jacket, coming so close, but falling just short.
It was tough to take it all in, seeing a grown man in tears and realizing just how much this one that got away meant to him.
But that’s just the kind of guy Mattiace is. He’s got a big heart.
Recently, Mattiace opened a Twitter account where he mostly shares helpful, quick-hit video golf tips.
Seeing his name reminded me of a fun story about Mattiace you’ve likely never heard before, but should make you a huge fan of the now 49-year-old who is looking forward to his turn at the PGA Tour Champions in 2018.
So, I reached out to him.
First, a quick background.
I’m from Rhode Island, the smallest state in the country. What the state lacks in size, it more than makes up for with an abundance of great golf courses.
One of those courses is the Willie Park, Jr.-designed Pawtucket Country Club, founded in 1902 and opened with the current layout in 1924. It’s a challenging par 69 that plays at 6,500 yards.
In 2002, Mattiace paid a visit to Pawtucket CC for a casual round with his father-in-law, Al Felici, a Rhode Island native, and a couple of others.
To say Mattiace was hot that day would be an understatement.
When the group reached the 18th green, Mattiace had a short putt – he recalls it as an 8-footer, while Felici insists, “no way! It was a tap-in! Split the difference and call it 4 feet if you want, but it was shorter than that” – for a birdie and a score of 9-under 60.
As Mattiace was waiting his turn, Felici’s friend – Dr. Paul Healey, also in the group – piped up and said, “You know, if Lenny makes that putt, he’s going to break Les Kennedy’s course record.”
That wasn’t just a big deal… it was a huge deal. Around these parts, Kennedy is a legend.
He took a job at Pawtucket CC in 1944 as both superintendent and head golf professional, spending much of the next 40 years in both capacities.
And he was a hell of a player too. He led the 1949 U.S. Open after Round 1 at Medinah Country Club, a major Cary Middlecoff would win. Kennedy also played in the 1950 Masters, won by Jimmy Demaret.
In Pawtucket CC lore, Oct. 9, 1970, was a special day. That’s when Kennedy fired the course-record, 8-under 61, a record that still stands today, some 47 years later.
And that’s only because of the kind of guy Mattiace is.
Upon hearing Healey mention Kennedy’s record, Mattiace proceeded to intentionally three-putt the final hole for a score of 7-under 62 and preserving Kennedy’s record.
“It’s funny,” said Mattiace, in an interview with PGA.com. “I probably only remember like 50 percent of that day, but one thing I remember vividly, is that Les Kennedy’s record scorecard was displayed prominently in the pro shop. I definitely remember that.”
And it still is. Current Pawtucket CC PGA Head Professional Mike Gelinas sent us proof:
So what was going through Mattiace’s head when he decided to three-jack?
“It didn’t feel right,” he said. “Les had that record forever. As a Tour player, I didn’t need my name up there alongside a guy who had it forever. It wasn’t necessary for me to do that. Les’s record means a lot to a lot of people at Pawtucket.”
Felici said he felt the same way. Sure, it was great to watch his son-in-law pick apart the course, but – like Healey and Mattiace – Felici wasn’t comfortable with the possibility of breaking, or even tying Kennedy’s record.
“The way Lenny was playing back then, it’s almost expected that in a casual round, if he was hot, he’d have a chance at a course record anyway,” Felici said. “I don’t think we would have enjoyed seeing Les’s record broken by a touring pro, especially at a place like Pawtucket. It’s like a church to the old timers. It’s better that things went the way they did. What good would it have been for Len to break that record? Everybody liked Les.”
For his part, Mattiace said he doesn’t need praise for what he did that day on the 18th green.
Why? Because it was the right thing to do. It’s also something of an “unwritten rule,” amongst Tour pros, he told us. In fact, Sam Snead was known to handle things the same way years ago.
“Here’s why we don’t want the course record,” Mattiace explained, “the PGA Professionals at the clubs like Pawtucket who have them, the Tour professionals have the utmost respect for those guys. They’re so important to the game. They support the game and grow the game. They interact with the members every day. It’s out of respect. We think the world of those guys.”
OK… that sounds like a fantastic reason to us.