Oct. 17, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
– Troy Matteson won’t be there tonight when seven former Georgia Tech student-athletes are inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame nor at Saturday’s football game in Bobby Dodd Stadium when the class is honored before fans. He hates that.
You can bet that he’ll be in around in spirit.
Matteson is off doing what he must do, competing in the PGA Tour’s Shriners Hospital for Children Open in Las Vegas. Yet he said earlier this week that he has Tech on his mind because the school and its people shaped so much of who he is both as a golfer and as a person.
“It’s a huge deal. I want to be there. If my world ranking was higher, and I could take the week off, I would,” he said. “It’s frustrating not to be there, but I’m doing what I need to be doing and my family is with me.
“I can say with 100 percent confidence that coach [Bruce] Heppler does things the way that you would expect. You don’t just want a guy who can teach kids to be good at a sport. What’s important at the end of the day is that you turn out good, quality people. I think at Tech and in the Athletic Association, that all plays a huge factor.”
Matteson, 33, was a big factor on one of Tech’s many great runs in golf while playing for the Yellow Jackets from 1998-’03.
You don’t win an NCAA individual championship, as he did in 2002, play on two national championship runner-up squads, earn All-America honors twice (’02 and ’03) capture two National Player of the Year awards (’03), play on two ACC championship teams and win six college tournaments without making an impression.
This seems a great place to recall a past conversation with Tech golf coach Bruce Heppler, who recruited Matteson out of Austin, Texas when for a long time it seemed a sure thing that he would stay right at home to play for the University of Texas.
Before the NCAA championships last spring, the topic was the team title. With but a few exceptions, golf is before and after the college game an individual sport. It’s different in college, and perhaps difficult for those not familiar with the sport to grasp the change in mindset.
“I guarantee you Troy Matteson would trade that [’02 NCAA medal] for the team title in a heart beat,” the coach said. “That’s what we’re out here for.”
That’s right. Even with two PGA Tour wins and more than $9 million in career earnings, Matteson is far more eager to talk about the team dynamic in college.
He, Kuchar, Molder, Forrester and Weibring fell just short of the 2000 national title, which would have been Tech’s first. The Jackets lost to Oklahoma State in a playoff.
“There’s nothing worse than your team coming close … there is nothing more cohesive than winning a championship as a team,” Matteson said. “If you win yourself, does that further your career? Yes. It’s not the same amount of fun if you don’t win the team. College is about forming relationships.”
That Matteson ended up at Tech to form relationships was a bit of an upset. It was this simple: Texas went through a coaching change during his recruitment, Heppler recruited him from afar, and after the young lad’s first official recruiting trip he was hooked.
It helped that he wanted to study civil engineering.
“Georgia Tech obviously has the engineering side, and it was No. 2 right behind MIT at the time,” Matteson explained. “Also, coach, had just signed some good players. I knew it was going to be an opportunity to play on a really good team. Kids go to college for a lot of reasons. It’s always fun to be part of a team that’s winning.
“The Total Person program was interesting. Then, when you see the Golf Club of Georgia and East Lake [where Tech plays and practices], there wasn’t any better place in the country to practice. Those greens looked like glass to me. I only went on one visit, and I decided right after my visit that was the place for me. I told coach.”
After taking a redshirt year chiefly to stretch his academic window, Matteson got busy on the links. He’s busy now.
Ranked No. 276 in the world, he has to keep churning. It took a solid performance earlier this fall in the Web.com Tour playoffs to retain his PGA Tour card. It will take more work to keep it.
The Mattesons moved from Atlanta to Austin a few years ago to be closer to family after becoming parents themselves.
It’s not like they spend a whole lot of time there, though, because of his line of work. He’s on a different team now, as father, mother and 4-year-old daughter travel together via motor home, “to about 90 percent of the tournaments,” he said.
There are more folks on the team, too, including a caddy – Patrick Cherry – who has been with him for about four years.
“It’s tough on family. We get home about 10-12 weeks a year,” Matteson said. “All my success is really due to my family. There are a lot of families. They made a lot of sacrifices for me to be able to do this. I have a stepfather, mother and dad who have all been influential.”
The Mattesons will have decisions to make in the future. Whether to home school their daughter, as some golf pros do, or have her attend traditional school back in Austin will not be an easy emotional process.
“I think we’d like to grow our family by one . . . we’ve got some time before we have to make that decision. You see all kinds out here [on Tour]. Some kids you see year-round, others you only see in the summer. I went to public schools, my wife went to public schools, and it’s important to spend time around others for development.
“Don’t get me wrong. We get paid a ridiculous amount of money to play golf, but it does come at cost. When you do get to go home, it’s not often for long.”
Matteson is missing a trip back to his second home. He has Heppler, his former teammates and Georgia Tech on his mind.
“I see Bryce and Matt and some others out here. It would be great to see coach and others,” he said. “That was such a big part of my life. Pressure is put on those kids to go make millions of dollars, and it takes a special coaching staff to help those kids be successful not only on the course, the court, the field, but off.”
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