(ATLANTA, Ga.) - Matt Parziale had made three previous unsuccessful trips to U.S. Open sectional qualifying, including this past June. Next year, however, he won’t need to take that route to play in golf’s ultimate test. Parziale, 30, of Brockton, Mass., booked a spot in the 118th U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., with a brilliant performance of shot-making and putting on Friday at Capital City Golf Club’s Crabapple Course. The firefighter registered 10 birdies – eight during the morning 18 – over 30 holes in defeating Josh Nichols, 26, of Kernersville, N.C., 8 and 6, in the 36-hole championship match of the 37th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship.
“That was a great announcement they had [last] Thursday night,” said Parziale, who learned of the USGA’s decision during the players’ reception on Oct. 5 at Atlanta National Golf Club, the stroke play co-host venue. “At the time, I didn’t know I would be the one going, but I’m very fortunate to have that opportunity now. I’m very excited for the upcoming year.”
The U.S. Mid-Amateur began last Saturday with 36 holes of stroke play, followed by six rounds of match play, concluding with Friday’s 36-hole final match. It is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. This week’s play was postponed for a full day on Sunday due to the impact of Tropical Depression Nate.
Parziale’s margin of victory matched the third-largest in championship history. Kevin Marsh’s 10-and-9 win in 2005 at The Honors Course is the largest, followed by the 9-and-7 victory by Trip Kuehne at Bandon Dunes in 2007. Mike McCoy won by the same 8-and-6 score in 2013 at the Country Club of Birmingham.
His 7-under 63 in the morning 18 – with the usual match-play concessions – was the best score in a U.S. Mid-Amateur final since the USGA switched the format to 36 holes in 2001.
“I didn’t play that bad,” said Nichols, a wedding caterer who failed to qualify for match play in his Mid-Amateur debut last year. “He played amazing. Even great golf couldn’t keep up.”
Even a seasoned professional might have had difficulty matching Parziale’s effort. He birdied four of the first seven holes in building a 3-up lead. On the inward nine, the 2017 Massachusetts Amateur champion birdied three straight holes from No. 12, and added another at the 458-yard par-4 16th to take a 6-up lead into the lunch break. That stretch included a 55-footer for birdie on the par-3 13th hole.
“I didn’t even know I shot 63 until someone texted me after,” said Parziale, who was 8 under par for the match. “I was really just trying to take it one hole at a time. I know that’s what everyone says, but that’s what I did today.”
Nichols, the fourth North Carolinian to reach a USGA amateur final in 2017 (joining U.S. Amateur champion Doc Redman, U.S. Senior Amateur runner-up Paul Simson and U.S. Women’s Amateur runner-up Jennifer Chang), holed a bunker shot for birdie on the par-4 ninth to momentarily halt Parziale’s surge, but then immediately gave a hole back on No. 10 with a bogey. Nichols’ only other win the rest of the match came when Parziale three-putted the par-3 24th hole for just his second bogey of the match.
If there’s any consolation, Nichols was happy to hear that making the Mid-Amateur final earned him a spot in next year’s U.S. Amateur. “And it’s at Pebble Beach,” he said before receiving his silver medal as the runner-up. He also receives a three-year Mid-Amateur exemption and an exemption from local qualifying for the 118th U.S. Open. “I just learned that today. That’s awesome.”
Parziale and Nichols halved holes 25 through 29 before Parziale, No. 247 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, sealed the win on the par-5 30th hole with a 2-iron approach that he was quite familiar with. He closed out his Massachusetts Amateur win at Charles River Country Club, hitting a 2-iron into a par 5. His 239-yard laser on Capital City’s 12th hole found the back fringe, and he managed to lag the eagle putt to within 4 feet. When Nichols failed to make his 25-footer for birdie, he conceded Parziale’s short putt.
Parziale first embraced his father/caddie, Vic, who also works in the same Brockton firehouse. Then he celebrated with fiancé Ali Hubbard, and several close friends who flew down to Atlanta from Boston on Friday morning. That group included Herbie Aikens and Brian Higgins, another elite mid-amateur from the Bay State. Parziale and Aikens have captured the last two Massachusetts Four-Ball titles and qualified for this year’s U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club.
“I knew my best friend Greg [Chalas] was driving from [Indianapolis] and he was meeting up with my fiancé. I didn’t know about the other guys,” Parziale said. “They just kept showing up at different times. Crazy friends. That means a lot to keep seeing new faces show up. There was a lot of support, and it was great to have them here.”
Parziale, who had never won a match in three previous U.S. Mid-Amateur appearances, enjoyed quite a week at Capital City Club. Not only did he finally advance in the bracket, but in the quarterfinals on Thursday, he rallied from 5 down with eight to play to beat medalist Bradford Tilley in 20 holes. He followed with a 5-and-4 win over 2016 semifinalist Dan Sullivan.
Five years ago, Parziale was at a crossroads in his golf career. He played collegiately at Southeastern University, an NAIA school in Lakeland, Fla., before embarking on a brief three-year professional career. On June 5, 2012, he was in Memphis, Tenn., for U.S. Open sectional qualifying and was grouped with 1992 U.S. Amateur and 1997 British Open champion Justin Leonard. He finished last (78-76) among the competitors who completed 36 holes.
It was at that point that Parziale decided it was time to abandon his dream of making it as a professional golfer and began the process of joining his father as a firefighter. It’s a decision he has not regretted.
“It’s great. I love my career,” said Parziale. “We’re a very busy station. It allows me to do this (play competitive golf) time-off wise. It’s a great group of guys, too.”
Now he’s about to embark on a dream-like season. His 2018 schedule will not only include the U.S. Open, but a likely invitation to next April’s Masters Tournament. He also is exempt into the next two U.S. Amateurs. The 118th U.S. Amateur is set for Aug. 13-19 at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links and Spyglass Hill.
The champion also received a gold medal, custody of the Robert T. Jones Jr. Memorial Trophy for the ensuing year and a 10-year Mid-Amateur exemption.
And he’s scheduled to get married next August.
“It’ll be tough [to get time off],” said Parziale. “But we’ll make next year work.”