June 28, 2016

Mostly cloudy

High school boys golf: Mat Stuart fulfilling coach’s prophecy with newfound focus

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 one.

Black River senior Mat Stuart is looking reach the Division II state tourna­ment for the first time after qualifying for districts a year ago. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY RON SCHWANE)

Black River senior Mat Stuart is looking reach the Division II state tourna­ment for the first time after qualifying for districts a year ago. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY RON SCHWANE)

“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 2½ years to realize the mental approach he needed.

For his whole life, the 17-year­old balanced baseball, basket­ball and golf. Consequently, the juggling hampered his ability to drastically improve on the links.

The scary thought? He beat Keystone’s Bryan Yeo for Patriot Athletic Conference MVP, quali­fied for theWindmill Lakes Divi­son II District last fall and was fourth in the county with 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 on Monday and finished second to Ohio State recruit GrantWeaver from Waynedale, so it’s not like he lost to Joe Schmo.

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 new­found 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 wanted to make it there as much as I do.”

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.

View photos at SmugMug

Albert Grindle About Albert Grindle

Albert Grindle is a sportswriter for the Gazette. He can be reached at 330-721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.