When Black River boys golf coach Jeff Calame made a bold proclamation at the school’s 2007 fall sports banquet, many were taken aback.
Here was this gangly freshman named Mat Stuart — and yes, it’s one “T.” He had a frizzled hairdo and wasn’t even the
No. 2 player at a school that sometimes forgets it even has a golf team. He was good, but not great, with a 43.8 average.
That didn’t matter to Calame, who saw the raw talent from Day 1.
“I made the statement that Mat has the potential and ability to be the best to go through Black River,” the 27th-year head coach said. “Everyone looked at me like I was off my rocker.
“Now, three years later, there’s no question what I said is coming through. It remains to see where he stacks up, but there’s no question (he’s in the conversation).”
To be frank, Stuart will not lead the Pirates to the state tournament as Brandon Scholz did in 1997. What he can accomplish, however, is something much tougher: become the first individual in Black River history to make it to Columbus.
Stuart has temporarily pushed that dream aside, pointing to the “one day at a time” philosophy, but it took him two-and-a-half years to realize the mental approach he needed.
For his whole life, the 17-year-old balanced baseball, basketball and golf. Consequently, the juggling hampered his ability to drastically improve his golf skills.
The scary thought? He beat Keystone’s Bryan Yeo for Patriot Athletic Conference MVP, qualified for the Windmill Lakes Divison II district last fall and posted a 39.6 average.
It wasn’t enough, so the 5-foot-11,
170-pounder decided to give up summer baseball in hopes of making his senior year one to remember.
“I try to play at least nine holes every day,” Stuart said. “Just playing golf helps so much.
“My short game has improved so much. From 100 yards in I’m so much better than I was. (I’ve been) putting a lot, too, which has been a great improvement.”
Mechanically, Stuart admits he’s still not where he wants to be despite all the extra practice. His driver has been “completely crazy” and he has “no idea” where it’s going.
Regardless, he began the season with a respectable 78 at the Husky Invitational, finishing second to Ohio State recruit Grant Weaver from Waynedale, not exactly a pushover.
In Stuart’s mind, however, a loss was a loss. Just a day later, he responded in style by winning the Greyhawk Invitational with a 76.
Much like any high school golfer, Stuart isn’t perfect, but bank on this: With his new-found mental approach, he will figure it out and contend for a state berth.
“If you have a bad shot, you can’t get mad — that’s not something you can hold in,” he said. “It’s kind of like growing up. I’ve done that a lot. It’s time to move on.
“State is definitely a goal, but I’m not there yet. I’m not going to make it there by thinking I’m automatically going there. I have to earn it. There’s kids who want to make it there as much as I do.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.