Last Sunday at the $600,000 TPC Stonebrae Championship Nationwide event in Hayward, CA, Grand Rapids native Matt Harmon fired a nine-under par 61 and tied for second place with a 271 total, one shot behind winner Alex Aragon. Earning $44,800, the former All-Big Ten player from Michigan State automatically qualified for the next Nationwide event to be held April 26-29 in Valdosta, GA. This week Harmon is competing in a NGA Tour tournament in North Carolina where I caught up with him by phone. Here are excerpts of our conversation. You can follow Harmon via Twitter at @mattharmongolf.
You got off to a great start on your final round. Tell us about it.
Well, after I parred the first hole I had five birdies in a row. With the exception of the fourth birdie, they were all within five feet of the cup. On the fifth hole, I sank a 25 foot putt for birdie. I made my only bogey when I hit a poor iron shot into the green on the 10th hole and missed a five footer for par.
But then you made three birds in a row on the back side?
Yes, my putter really got hot. I made three long putts in a row from 20, 35 and 25 feet. Then I made a tap-in birdie on 15 when I hit the par-five in two. And my final birdie was another bomb from 35 feet.
When you holed that one, how did your playing partners react?
They were great, giving me high fives and pulling for me.
Did you ever think about shooting 59?
I wasn’t really thinking about it but it did cross my mind once on the front side after I made those five birdies in the row. And obviously, it’s easier to break 60 on a par 70 course. But really I was more conscious of being in the Top 25 because it would exempt me into the next Nationwide event.
What is your Nationwide status?
I’m exempted into the next Nationwide event but I will have to finish in the Top 25 in order to maintain that exemption for the next several tournaments. However, the good news is that there’s a reshuffle among the Nationwide players and beginning with the 11th Nationwide tournament—the Mexico Open in June—I’ll be in the Nationwide field for the remainder of the year. So that’s a huge plus.
Okay, about that $44,800 second place check. Is that the biggest of your pro career and also how do you receive that money?
Yes, that’s my biggest check. Checks are normally electronically deposited in a player’s bank account the Tuesday or Wednesday following the tournament. Since we’re independent contractors, the whole amount is deposited but I believe 7% is taken out for California state taxes. That’s one aspect of being a Tour player that can get complicated, having to file tax returns for the various states we play in. But I have a good accountant.
Who was your caddie this past week?
His name is John Rathoz from Omaha, Nebraska. It was first time he had caddied for me. He normally caddies on the PGA Tour but he had some open weeks so he came out to the Nationwide event. We met and hooked up out there. He was very helpful and I expect to use him in the next Nationwide event as well.
By the way, how did you get into the event? Did you Monday qualify?
No, I was given a sponsor’s exemption but that had a funny twist to it. Actually the exemption was originally set to go to a fellow player on the NGA Tour but then he qualified for the event and didn’t need it. So my name came up next on the list and I received the exemption. When I received the phone call on Monday morning I was already set to play in the Monday qualifier and so instead I just played a practice round.
Knowing you work with Dave Kendall, what have the two of you been working on?
Dave and I worked on some things before the end of the year and then again in Florida in January. I played miserably at Q School so I had to get back on track. Basically, we worked on finding more balance in my swing. It all worked well last week.
What goals have you set for yourself this year?
I’m not a huge goal-setter. I focus instead on working hard and not setting any unrealistic expectations. I figure if I do my best, things will take care of themselves.
For the equipment mavens, please go through your bag.
I’m a Titleist guy. My driver is a 910 D3 model with a 9.5 degree loft and a Fujikura Speeder 757 XS shaft. My 910 S three-metal is 15 degree. My irons— 3 to PW— are the Titleist 712 CB model with the Rifle Project X Flighted shafts. I’ve been playing with the irons since last June. And I have three Vokey wedges—51, 55 and 60.
And what about that hot putter?
I only started practicing with it two weeks ago and used it in a tournament for first time last week. I just needed a change. It’s a Scotty Cameron Select “GoLo” model.
On Sunday, it lived up to its name. Continued success, Matt.
photos courtesy of PGA Tour and Titleist