SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Shortly before Matt Parziale faced the media at his pre-tournament news conference at the Masters, he toured the spacious media center at Augusta National and stopped to grab a bottled water and a candy bar. Parziale, 31, whipped out his wallet and asked, "How much do I owe you?"
Little did he know that the press doesn't pay for golf, let alone a refreshment. Neither do the amateur contestants. Rookie move, but it was a small moment that shed light on this humble U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, who is having the year of his life.
"Life's changed quite a bit," he said, "but I'm having a blast."
The final of the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur for players 25-and-older pitted Parziale, a firefighter, against a 26-year-old wedding caterer. Who says golf is only for the silver-spooned set?
Parziale defeated Josh Nelson, 8 and 6, in the scheduled 36-hole championship match at Capital City Club in Atlanta, earning a golden ticket to Augusta National for the Masters, Shinnecock Hills for the U.S. Open and later this year at Pebble Beach, site of the U.S. Amateur in August. Not too shabby for a kid born, raised and still living in Brockton, Mass., aka The City of Champions, and home of the late boxer Rocky Marciano, who held the heavyweight title from 1952 to 1956.
(Interesting tidbit: Parziale's great-grandmother used to go to Marciano's home on fight nights to turn down the radio and TV because the boxer’s mother got too nervous to listen.)
This is the first year that the U.S. Mid-Am champion has received an exemption to the U.S. Open, and Parziale has taken advantage. His downhill birdie putt at 18 on Friday fell over the edge and he made the cut at 7 over, something his childhood idol Tiger Woods and multiple major winners Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson failed to do.
"He can do my job, but I can't do his," said 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, who also was sent packing on Friday.
Parziale will celebrate Father's Day with his dad, Vic, on the bag just as he has been so many times before on this circuitous journey. Except low-amateur honors in the U.S. Open will be on the line this time. No big deal.
Parziale began playing the game at age 5 or 6 with his grandfather, and by age 14 he shot 72 and beat his father at D.W. Field Park, a municipal course, in Brockton.
"I knew I'd never beat him again," Vic said.
Parziale is a reinstated amateur after spending three years chasing his dream of playing professionally on golf's mini-tours. He never advanced through the first stage at PGA Tour Qualifying School. At the 2012 U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Memphis, Tenn., he finished last among the competitors who completed 36 holes and decided it was time to abandon his pro career.
"I played all the mini‑tours you can possibly imagine, Monday qualifiers, and I enjoyed it," he said. "But I wasn't making any money. So, yeah, it was just a decision I made. I never regretted it."
In 2014, he turned to the life that had put food on the table for as long as he had lived. His father spent 32 years as a firefighter at Brockton Station 1, Ladder 1, the seventh-busiest ladder in the country, rising to the position of captain.
"He never missed any hockey game I had, so I figured it was a good schedule for me to play competitive golf," Parziale said. "I was able to fight a fire with my dad before he retired, so that was probably the best thing that's happened so far."
Parziale took a leave of absence from the fire department in late October, because he was concerned about getting hurt. He missed four months when he tore a meniscus.
"Usually every house fire we go into, we leave pretty banged up," he said at the Masters. "You leave too hurt, you might not be playing."
And to think how close it was to none of this happening: Parziale went extra holes in his second-round match – "I made three of the best up-and-downs of my life," he said – and was 5 down against medalist Bradford Tilley in the quarterfinal. How bleak was it? "I actually called and signed up for my Saturday morning game," said Vic, who thought they'd be packing their bags and home in time for his usual game at Thorny Lea.
But Parziale stormed back and won on the 20th hole. He shot 63 in the morning 18 of the final to build a 6-up lead. After hoisting the title, father and son were showering when Vic suggested maybe he shouldn't caddie at the Masters.
"I said, 'What do you mean?' " Parziale recounted. "And he said, 'I can't read the putts.' But he hasn't read a putt for me in 12 years, so I don't know why he thought he would start now."
Woods sent Parziale a congratulatory letter, and they played a nine-hole practice round on the eve of the Masters.
"That was pretty amazing. And Freddie [Couples] was the third," Parziale said. "Well, I should say I was the third, but I joined them."
He missed the cut, shooting 81-79, but left with a lifetime of memories. Parziale said half the fun is almost over, but half is still to come: the U.S. Amateur before his U.S. Mid-Am title defense in October. He pushed his wedding to Alison Hubbard, a dentist in Brockton, up two weeks because it was scheduled for the same day as the semifinal matches of the U.S. Amateur. At a news conference this week, he was asked: “She understands Pebble Beach, right?”
"Not yet. Hopefully she does when she gets out there," Parziale said.
On Saturday, he shot 4-over 74 at Shinnecock despite a four-putt on No. 16, and beat playing competitor Ben An, a playoff loser at the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago, by seven strokes(scores). "Parz Nation" cheered his every step.
"There he is," a supporter said to his friend. "You can always tell the am by the stand bag."
Vic, who had right rotator cuff surgery last year, slung the bag over his left shoulder. He'll get to do it in the final round on Father's Day, too, with his boy leading the race for low-am honors, at 11-over 221, by one stroke over Luis Gagne and two over Will Grimmer.
"This is special for me," Vic said. "It's a great Father's Day present. The best ever."
Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @adamschupak