Tiger Woods, Augusta and the best day ever for firefighter Matt Parziale and friends

Chris Carlson/Associated Press

Tiger Woods, Augusta and the best day ever for firefighter Matt Parziale and friends

PGA Tour

Tiger Woods, Augusta and the best day ever for firefighter Matt Parziale and friends

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The caddies were already ahead of the pack, getting yardages for the approach shots to the ninth green at Augusta National.

In the middle of the fairway, Tiger Woods walked and talked with Fred Couples to his right. To Woods’ left was 30-year-old U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Matt Parziale, a full-time firefighter in Brockton, Mass., who rounded out the Masters practice round threesome.

Farther back toward the tee, about 20 of Parziale’s friends and fellow members at Thorny Lea Golf Club were still in shock more than two hours after the group teed off.

“I mean, that was surreal,” said Eric Kramer, a Thorny Lea member who made the trip to Augusta this week to back his boy Parziale. “That hasn’t sunk in yet. Just to watch him playing with this guy he’s idolized since the age of whatever. We were standing behind the ninth tee and he and Tiger are just, you know, walking up to the tee, no big deal. Sharing a laugh, blah blah, blah. It’s just unbelievable.”

Thorny Lea is a blue-collar club, the kind where playing fast is more important than playing well and you pick up and move on to the next hole if you make double bogey. Everyone plays with everyone and the members are close. Parziale’s crew was walking with him the whole way Wednesday, several of them wearing white hats with the outline of the state of Massachusetts on the front and “Go Parz Go” in green font on the back.

Parziale said he was able to arrange Wednesday’s round through a mutual friend of Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava, who he texted over the past few days while hoping rainy forecasts wouldn’t wipe it out.

Once they started, Woods was engaged and asked Parziale questions about what firefighters do. Seemed genuinely curious. Parziale’s father, Vic, is caddying for his son this week and said at first he was just trying to stay out of the way. But Woods approached him early in the round and the two shared a few stories.

“Unbelievable,” Vic said. “Tiger out there, Freddy. They were so good to Matt. It was just like playing with his buddies. It was great.”

Said Woods: “The fact that Matt puts his life on the line every day for others and then does this is amazing. I’m really impressed by his game. He’s a very good player.”

Parziale gave mini tours a go after playing in college at Southeastern University. He later decided to follow in his father’s footsteps as a firefighter and was able to re-gain his amateur status.

He beat Josh Nichols, 8 and 6, in the 36-hole championship match of the U.S. Mid-Amateur last October at Capital City Golf Club’s Crabapple Course in Atlanta. That earned him an invite to the Masters, where earlier in the week he played a practice round with four-time major champion Rory McIlroy.

Woods spent time showing Parziale the ropes Wednesday on a course he knows inside and out. At the par-3 sixth, Woods walked him around the tricky green with a massive false front and pointed out a few things around the surface.

“Both (Rory and Tiger) just want to help you, make sure your first experience is the best it can be,” Parziale said. “They were awesome. Both of them. Whether it was a conversation about the course, conversation about life, anything. They’re great players and they were great to talk to.”

Parziale talks fast with an unmistakable Boston accent, the kind you don’t usually hear underneath the big oak tree behind Augusta’s clubhouse unless a reporter from the Globe is asking questions. He seems to be soaking everything up but is clearly focused on playing good golf. There was no wide-eyed, glossy look at any point. No “dream come true,” quotes for the small handful of reporters he spoke with after the Par 3 Contest.

He has a job to do, and the grand reflection will come in time. He made a lifetime of golf memories Wednesday, first with the Woods-Couples pairing and later in the Par 3 Contest with his fiance, Alison Hubbard, on the bag.

They made the short loop with Patrick Reed and his wife, Justine. Also along for the trip was Reed’s 3-year-old daughter, Windsor Wells, who scampered around in white-framed sunglasses with a green bow in her hair and played the part of cute kid at the Masters Par 3 Contest to perfection.

The ninth and final tee was backed up, so while Parziale and Reed were waiting they were joined by the iconic trio of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson, who won the competition at 6 under.

This was a good day.

“They were great,” Parziale said. “My fiancé hit a shot there, so they were talking about her swing, my swing. It was a great environment during that Par-3 the whole time, so we had a lot of fun.”

Parziale’s friends were there at the Par 3 too, about five hours after they were hanging around the practice green trying to get some intel out of Vic regarding a practice round that didn’t seem real.

“We weren’t sure if they were going off 1 or 10, and we wanted to see the first drive,” Kramer said. “His dad Vic was on the putting green while Matty was over there rolling the rock. We asked him what was going on and he says, ‘I’m on a need-to-know basis.'”

They eventually got a great spot behind the first tee and snapped a photo of the three caddies standing next to each other with the Woods, Couples and Parziale name tags visible on the back of their white bibs.

Kramer said the group will be here Thursday and Friday and will return for the weekend if he makes the cut. He quickly corrected himself to say they’ll be here when he makes the cut. They’re as fired up about the golf as Parziale is, but they don’t have to worry about trying to conquer Augusta.

They’re just here enjoying the show, because when your friend is a firefighter who qualifies for the Masters and gets to play with Tiger Woods before hanging out with Nicklaus, Watson and Player, you don’t want to miss it.

“Just so many frame-able photos from today,” Kramer said. “What an experience, man. I don’t know when it sinks in for him. I don’t know when it sinks in for the rest of us. It’s just pure insanity. Really. It’s just pure insanity.”

Latest

More Golfweek
Home