Matt Tolan hasn’t had many weekends to kick up his feet and relax in his final summer before he graduates from college.
He’s once again turned in a summer by the pool for a summer of long car rides and lugging golf bags, trekking the state and the greater Midwest region to compete in some of the most prestigious events a golf amateur can enter.
His performance on the course has been just as consistent as his busy travel schedule. He finished second at the Wisconsin State Amateur Championship and at the WSGA Ray Fischer Amateur Championship, fourth at the Northwest Amateur in Spencer, Iowa, and most notably second at Watertown Country Club in a U.S. Amateur qualifier.
Thanks to that final result, he has the chance to cap off an already stellar summer playing against some of the world’s best.
For the second time in three years, the Eau Claire North graduate will compete this week in the U.S. Amateur Championship. This time, he and his parents made the 1,300-mile drive down to Pinehurst Resort and Country Club in Pinehurst, N.C. for him to match up against a top-notch field of 312 golfers.
“It’s unbelievable,” Tolan said Wednesday at Princeton Valley Golf Club before his departure. “It means the world to me. Coming from a nine-hole golf course where our greens aren’t quick, it just goes to show to every kid, keep on fighting. You can be what you want to be and you don’t have to be on a private course, private country club to be as good as you possibly can be.”
He’ll tee off at 1:04 p.m. Monday in a threesome with fellow Americans Tim Pemberton and Vince Drahman.
At North, Tolan blossommed as an upperclassman, earning regional and sectional titles with the Huskies. After recording the lowest scoring average in North history, he went off to South Dakota where he’s enjoyed a successful first three years of his collegiate career. Only one Coyote in program history has recorded more rounds below par in his career, and Tolan ranks fourth in program history in win-loss percentage.
He didn’t exactly enter the summer with exceptional momentum, though. After earning a second-team All-Summit League selection as a sophomore, the former Husky said he was somewhat disappointed in his junior year.
Tolan turned to the simplest solution of all — more practice. He hit the links hard at the end of the spring and into the summer, and the results are self-evident.
“I knew he had the capability, but this summer has been the consistency,” said Tolan’s father, Dan. “He really hasn’t had a bad tournament yet. ... I think that’s been the big difference. Every summer he’s had some really good tournaments. To just have the consistent results all summer with no drop-off, that’s hard to do.”
Tolan said he’s seen improvements both in the tee box and while putting, two traits he’d previously seen as weaknesses. And now, he’s just riding one of the longest grooves he’s been in as a golfer.
“I’ve known I’ve had the capability of playing this well,” Tolan said. “I’ve just been waiting for it to happen.”
He’s stuck around until the end in most tournaments he’s played in this summer, so it’s lucky Tolan has the ideal employer when it comes to understanding his travel schedule. He’s working at the course he grew up playing on, Princeton Valley.
“They’re really flexible with my hours, with how often I’m gone for potentially two days, four days, five days,” Tolan said. “I’ve got such a good support team around me. Every time I come back from a tournament it’s, ‘Ah, congrats Matt. You’re playing so well.’ That just fuels me.”
It’s safe to say golf has been all-encompassing the past few months. When he’s not working, he’s usually practicing on the course. He doesn’t even go far when he goes home since the Tolan household is right on Princeton Valley.
“I’ve kind of got no excuse with living on a golf course to not be out here 24/7 if I’m not working,” he said.
There’s a risk of burnout with so much time around the sport, but it seems to be having an opposite effect on Tolan.
“He’s around the game all the time and it seems to just energize him,” said Princeton Valley Director of Golf Tim Kaiser, who has been at the course for two years. “He gets done working an eight hour shift and most people want to go home. He ends up going to the range for an hour after that. He wants to get better. He wants to work.”
Tolan previously competed at the U.S. Amateur at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles in 2017, missing the cut with a plus-16 156. He said he learned valuable lessons from that experience, both from a mental and physical standpoint.
“You’ve got to try and calm the nerves as quickly as possible,” Tolan said. “And the golf courses are definitely a tougher challenge. ... It’s definitely going to take a lot of long irons and a lot of precise golf shots, especially on Pinehurst’s greens.”
He’s qualified for both Amateurs at the same course, Watertown Country Club. He shot a two-under 138 this year, making the cut between qualifiers and alternates by two strokes. Chippewa Falls native and McDonell graduate Thomas Longbella shot a 140 to earn an alternate spot.
“I played really well the first round,” Tolan said. “I had a little bit of a cushion, but I didn’t want to put the (brake) pedal down. I wanted to keep going. I kind off got off to a shaky start that first nine but came back with a really solid second nine, made a couple birdies that really sealed me punching my ticket.”
This is his first trip to Pinehurst, but he’s had a handful of friends who have played the course and gave him some tips. He’ll have a trustworthy partner with him throughout the tournament since his father will serve as his caddy.
“It’s hard to sometime be the caddy and not the parent,” Dan said. “But I think the multiple times I’ve caddied, I can certainly help him with distances, spin control, mapping the greens.”
This year’s tournament, which kicks off when two threesomes tee off at 6:15 a.m. Monday, begins with two rounds of stroke play to cut the field down to 64. The top 64 scorers advance to match play competition and get the chance to play on a national stage on Wednesday on Fox Sports 1.
“That’s what I told him his job was, to play well enough that we can all follow along on the weekend,” Kaiser said.
The top two golfers at the tournament earn an invitation to play at the Masters.
Until the bright lights of TV come out, Tolan’s scores will be up on the computer in the Princeton Valley pro shop for those interested to check in.
“There’s been members out here who have seen him running around since he was a little kid,” Kaiser said. “For them to be now accomplishing things on a national level, is really cool and a lot of people take pride in that.”
While Tolan is competitive, he knows just making it this far is a feat in itself.
“I just want to go enjoy the experience,” he said. “Not many people get to say before they graduate college that they get to play two U.S. Ams. I’m going to soak in every moment it has to offer and see what the result is. No matter what, I’m going to have a smile on my face.”