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Matt Parziale makes it a rare double for coach

Masters-bound firefighter Matt Parziale makes it a rare double for coach Shawn Hester

If you're looking for a player to get behind at the 2018 Masters, look no further than Matt Parziale.

Parziale earned his spot in the Masters field thanks to his victory in the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. 

When he's not winning tournaments, the 30-year-old Parziale is saving lives as a firefighter with the Brockton Fire Department. 

The man is a legend.

Last summer, Parziale won his third Francis Ouimet Memorial Tournament. He had the lead after 36 holes, worked an overnight shift that ended at 8 a.m. the day of the final round, made his 11:10 tee time and shot 71 to win the tournament.

If that's not the ultimate blue-collar Masters story, we don't know what is.

Surely this trip to Augusta National will be like a fairytale for Parziale. But it may be even more special for his coach.

PGA Professional Shawn Hester -- who teaches at Charles River Country Club and operates www.HesterGolf.com -- boasts something that not many, if any, can.

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When Parziale tees off in the 2018 Masters, it will mark the second time that a Massachusetts-born, amateur, Hester pupil has played in the Masters. 

Think about that for a second. New England is an area of the country where golf season lasts maybe six months per year, or seven if they're really lucky.

James Driscoll -- who has made a career on the Web.com and PGA Tours since -- was under Hester's tutelage when he was the runner-up in the 2000 U.S. Amateur at Baltusrol and gained entry into the 2001 Masters.

And you want to talk about a rush? Driscoll opened that Masters with a 4-under 68 in the first round, which marked the best opening round at the Masters by an amateur since Ken Venturi fired a 66 in 1956.

Driscoll played with Tom Watson that day. 

"This was the best round I've seen here by an amateur," Watson said back then. Driscoll would shoot a 78 the next day to miss the cut, but no one can ever take that 68 away from him.

Now, 17 years later, Hester will head back to Augusta to guide Parziale.

"When I coached James in 2001, you think that's a once in a lifetime opportunity," Hester told PGA.com. "And to go back 17 years later with anbother amateur from Massachusetts is pretty cool. It's the thrill of a lifetime as a coach."

Hester said his role at the Masters for Parziale will be simple: stay out of his way.

"I never throw stuff out there," said Hester, who has been a PGA Professional since 1995. "I look at my role as someone who players can bounce ideas off of. At they end of the day, they're highly skilled, super competitive players. They're more talented than me, they know more than me and I know my role. I don't go outside of my lane."

And that makes for a perfect player-coach relationship with Parziale.

Parziale tested the pro waters in his early 20s, but didn't care for the travel or the grind on the mini tours. It also didn't help that he didn't hit driver in competition since he couldn't keep it in play.

So, Parziale dropped the idea of a professional career in 2013 and regained his amateur status.

"I thought he had a ton of talent and encouraged him all the time to continue to play [at the pro level]," Hester said. "But he wasn't comfortable in professional golf. He didn't like traveling and he's settling down and his life is falling into place and he's playing the best golf of his life right now. He took a roundabout way to get on the biggest stage and he's earned his way there."

Since returning to the amateur ranks and working with Hester, Parziale has also worked out those driver woes.

"I always told Matt, 'If you want to compete with those guys, you have to hit the driver,'" Hester said. "I got him working on that, hitting up on the ball instead of down. By the middle of last summer he was comfortable with it. He was comfortable hitting it when he won the Massachusetts Amateur at Charles River, where I teach, and he was very comfortable with it at the Mid-Am."

Was he ever. Parziale won the Mid-Am final 8 and 6 -- the third-largest margin of victory for a final in the tournament's history.

For elite amateurs, there can be difficulty finding a balance between work and golf. But Hester believes that life as a firefighter is actually good for Parziale's game.

In Brockton, firefighters work 24-hour shifts with one on, two off and then one on and four off. With a schedule like that, Parziale has plenty of time to work on his golf game.

He's also taken a leave of absence to get his game as sharp as can be for the Masters.

But the weather in Massachusetts certainly hasn't been helpful in that regard. Hester said that Parziale has worked hard to keep his iron game on point, as well as his driving. But there is one area of concern from Hester for Parziale at Augusta National.  

"The area I'm a little concerned about is the short game area," Hester said. "Being up here, you don't get a chance to practice in and around the greens this time of year. There's so much demand on that at Augusta National. He's played tournaments down there to get ready, but we haven't done a lot of pitching and chipping work here. We're limited up here. It's mostly controlling ball flight and irons. He's driving it great."

Parziale has played "five or six" practice rounds at Augusta National so far, according to Hester. He also recently took a trip to Florida to tune up where he spent time at Medalist with Driscoll. 

Driscoll sent an encouraging scouting report back to Hester.

"One thing James said when he called is what a great guy Matt is," Hester said. "James made a comment about how Matt's, 'kinda like me and can handle it all.' Matt isn't looking for input. He's not that kind of guy. When someone like that doesn't look for input, I don't give it to them. When they do, he can ask. Matt knows he can run anything he wants by me. He can text. He can call. We've had very little conversations about what will go when we get down there. I'll give the player what he wants and needs. I'll feel comfortable saying whatever I need to see if situation calls for it. It's been a good relationship that way."

This will be Hester's 10th trip to the Masters, but just his second as a coach.

Part of that means being on the driving range at what many consider the greatest golf course in the world with his student.  

While Hester can appreciate how special that is, he's going to restrain that joy while he's down there. This, folks, is a business trip. 

"Not too many people get this opportunity," Hester said. "This will make it twice for me. It will be very exciting to be on the range. It's a great achievment. But, as a coach, I can't think like that. I'm trying to prepare my player the best I can and support him the best I can. I'm not thinking about other things. But it's very gratifying."

Hester said he recently heard a story from a close friend of Parziale.

The friend said of the gritty firefighter, "He told me a few years back that the only way he'd ever go to the Masters is if he qualified to play."

"I don't know how true that was, but knowing Matt, it didn't surprise me," Hester said. "And now, here he is -- going to the Masters as a player."

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