Like most of his fellow competitors, Matt Mattare plays his best golf when he’s relaxed and not putting a lot of pressure on himself.
In following those two qualities in Monday’s first round of the Philadelphia Open, Mattare kicked his game up to an elite level, accounting for one of the best stroke-play rounds in the history of the Golf Association of Philadelphia.
Mattare, 31, a member of Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, birdied nine holes, four in a row at one point, fired an 8-under-par 63 to set a competitive course record at Philadelphia Country Club, and took a 4-stroke lead heading into Tuesday’s final round.
Mattare had 13 one-putt greens and needed only 23 putts in posting the lowest competitive round of his career. The previous Philadelphia Country Club mark of 64 was set by Charlie Beljan in a qualifying round of the 2005 U.S. Amateur.
Mattare, the 2016 GAP Middle-Amateur champion, did not make match play in last month’s Philadelphia Amateur, capping a month of what he called bad play, and took a week off to collect himself. His game since then has been much better.
“My attitude was bad,” he said. “I was just pressing too much and I was putting too much pressure on myself. This is not a career. You have to come out here and enjoy yourself and relax. When you relax and just swing smooth instead of heaping all this pressure, good things happen.”
Good things happened in bunches Monday. He birdied the second and third holes, then holes five through eight to make the turn in 30 on the 6,902-yard, par-71 Gladwyne course. Birdies at the 12th, 13th and 17th holes followed before his lone bogey of the day at No. 18.
“It’s just a conscious effort to just never let tension come into your swing, never let it into your thoughts,” he said. “There was a little bit on 18, I kind of felt it coming on the tee ball and I backed off, got up and reset and hit a nice smooth shot down the middle.
“The first 13 or 14 holes, there was never a chance of making bogey. I was hitting greens and rolling in putts from everywhere, and when I missed a green, I had a little kick-in.”
Tony Perla, an assistant pro at Philadelphia Cricket Club, also posted a nine-hole score of 30 – this on the back nine – and stood alone in second place with a 67. Merion’s Michael McDermott, looking for his first victory in the only GAP major he has yet to win, tied for third with David Hicks of Stone Harbor at 69.
As for his strategy for Tuesday, Mattare said he will have the same attitude as his first round.
“I went out there and I just played solid golf,” he said. “So go out and do it again, swing smooth and get dialed in on the green speed and see where the chips fall. If someone shoots a 61, you tip your cap and go on your merry way.”