POTOMAC,Md. — Troy Matteson may be making his PGA tour debut at this week’s FBR Capital Open,but the 22-year-old civil engineer fresh out of Georgia Tech seemed to be right at home in 21st place after two rounds at the TPC of Avenel.
“You’re dreams are realized,” Matteson said after his two-under-par first round 69 on Thursday. “You’re playing with your heroes.”
Starting the second round in 11th place,the NCAA first team All-American shot an even-par 71 on Friday to stand in a tie for 24th place at 2-under 140 late Friday afternoon.
After a rain delay Saturday,Matteson shot a 4-over 75 in the third round Sunday and fell back to a tie for 54th place.
“He’s been very calm,” said Jeff Paton,Matteson’s swing coach. “His desire to play out here is so high. He is a grinder.”
After Matteson drained a 15-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole late Thursday afternoon,Paton saw Matteson’s name appear on the leader board for the first time. “Our boy’s on the board,” he said with a proud smile.
“(His caddie) and I have done real good not looking at the leader board,” Matteson said. “You’re more concerned with how you’re playing.”
Two other rookies fresh out of college,22-year-old Nick Watney from Fresno State and 22-year-old D.J. Trahan from Clemson,also made their professional debuts this weekend. Like Matteson,both played at Avenel on a sponsor’s exemption as Annika Sorenstam did at last month’s Colonial.
The PGA Tour limits the number of sponsor’s exemptions a player can receive,so the pressure is on for the rookies to earn enough money to qualify for a tour card next year. If not,the dreaded,six-day PGA qualifying school awaits in December.
“You put a lot of pressure on yourself to play well,” said PGA player Andy Miller,the son of legendary PGA player Johnny Miller who also faced Watney in college. “It’s a lot easier if you have five or six weeks in a row to play.”
As Watney walked off the 18th hole after a 3-over 74 on Thursday,a young boy raised his cap to get an autograph,but Watney had no pen.
“C’mon rookie,you’ve got to have a sharpie in your pocket,” said Fresno State golf coach Mike Watney,who is also Nick’s uncle.
“I loved it our there,” said Nick Watney,a three-time NCAA all-American. “I was definitely nervous. It was more like a real excited nervous. I had a blast for sure.”
After his round on Thursday,Watney was putting on the practice green between European Ryder Cup members Jesper Parnevik from Sweden and Padraig Harington from Ireland. Watney spent as much time staring wide-eyed at them as he did putting.
After walking off the green,Watney said,”It’s pretty neat. I saw Phil (Mickelson). It’s definitely where you want to be in golf.”
“This is all so new,” his uncle said. “He checks in and somebody gives him 10 shirts and some slacks.”
Earlier in the week,Watney was hitting from a practice bunker,and two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal,noted for his short-game wizardry,stepped in to practice his sand game beside Watney.
“Nick just got out of the bunker,” his uncle said. “He knows he’s the big man on the college level. Here he’s just walking around in awe.”
Trahan,whose team at Clemson won the NCAA Championship last week,struggled with a 4-over 75 Friday to miss the cut at 6-over 148.
“I’m just not putting well enough,” Trahan said after a 2-over 73 in the first round Thursday. “I’m losing too much momentum.”
Winner of the 2000 National Publinx Championship,Trahan grew up playing with older players and professionals that his father,PGA master teacher Don Trahan,taught at Harbor Town Golf Club in Hilton Head,S.C.
“He’s been as cool as a cucumber,” his father said. “He’s played with pros all his life. He’s not scared or intimidated.”
“I was at ease,” the 6-4 Trahan said after his round Thursday. “It’s like any other day playing.”
Trahan said the main difference is that now he plays for money,but he doesn’t have a true feel yet for life on the tour. “It’s not like I’ve played with Davis Love III or Tiger Woods yet,” he said.
Both Trahan and Watney missed the cut and will be off next week. Trahan failed to qualify for next week’s U.S. Open in the sectional qualifier on Wednesday.
Matteson,however,is still playing Monday hopes his glassy-smooth swing will propel him up the leader board.
“When he’s square and aligned,he’s able to hit the ball so well,” Paton said. “His ball striking is second to none.”
PGA tour member Matt Kuchar,known for his practical jokes,played with Matteson at Georgia Tech and has already been giving the rookie a hard time,Paton said. Kuchar’s antics provided Matteson with some comic relief during an otherwise stressful week.
Winner of college golf’s prestigious Byron Nelson award,Matteson plans to get married at the end of this month. But wedding day jitters are nothing compared to PGA pressure.
“It’s a very nerve-racking experience,” he said. “It’s definitely a relief now.”