Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Teacher says Mattiace is not give-up guy

The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Jim McLean didn't know whether to laugh or cry on Sunday, so he ended up doing both.

This wasn't like 11 years before, when the former Sleepy Hollow Country Club head pro helped Tom Kite to a win in the U.S. Open. This was far more personal. Kite was an established player in 1992, one of the best players in the world. Len Mattiace, meanwhile, has been McLean's guy all along, a player he had helped steer from the doldrums of the mini-tours and into one of the most dramatic performances in Masters' history.

See Mattiace's final round 65 through McLean's eyes, and you see almost everything a teacher aspires for one of his students. On Sunday of the Masters, Mattiace was brilliant, striking the ball crisply, putting masterfully. But most of all, he was calm. Even at the end, when a bogey on 18 and a hooked 6-iron in the playoff opened the door for Mike Weir, the 35-year-old Mattiace never lost his composure.

"It was so great to see that," McLean said Monday. "That's what you strive for, what you try to tell everyone to do. But doing it is a whole other thing. He was very focused, but still at ease. It was a perfect combination. He loved being in the moment."

And McLean loved seeing it all first hand. The swing coach had begun work with Mattiace in 1994, not long after McLean left Sleepy Hollow to take over as head of instruction at Doral in Miami. Mattiace had lost his Tour card after the '93 season, yet by 1996, he made his way back. By 1998, he found himself with a chance to win The Players Championship - a tournament that, until Sunday, had been the defining moment of his career. Standing on that 71st tee, one shot out of the lead, Mattiace proceeded to knock two balls into the water and walked away with an 8.

"I think that was quite different," said McLean. "There he ended up tied for fifth. Here he was still the leader in the clubhouse. I'd say seven out of 10 times in that situation, you're going to win.

"There was tremendous pressure on Weir and he handled it. Plus, there were other things going on with Lenny at the time of The Players. His mom was dying of cancer and then she died three months later."

Besides, McLean said, Mattiace is a much better player now. After going 220 tournaments on Tour without a win, Mattiace won twice last year. Whereas other players have flirted with major championships and then blended back into the scenery, McLean is convinced Mattiace will get another other crack. The player broke into tears on several occasions during his press conference, but afterwards, McLean said, Mattiace was philosophical.

"I waited for him afterwards and he had a great attitude," McLean said. "Lenny is a special person. He's not a give-up guy. He realizes what he did was special and that's what he needed to take away. I guess you could say he lost the tournament, but I think he will put himself back in contention."

No doubt, McLean will be there with him. Three decades after taking his first teaching job as an assistant at Westchester Country Club, 10 years after leaving the Met Section behind for a job in Florida, McLean saw the fruits of his own work on display on Sunday at the Masters. Short of hitting the shots yourself, it doesn't get much more rewarding for a pro.

"The emotions were so high and then it was so sobering," McLean said. "At the time, you didn't know what to think."

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