In a career filled with highlights, are there one or two that really stand out for you?
I would say the best highlight is winning my first PGA tour event. It was 2002 in Los Angeles. That Nissan Open at the famous Riviera Country Club has a deep, rich history of great players winning there, and my name was now included.
I shot rounds of 69-66-65-68 to win by one shot over Scott McCarran. I birdied the 17th hole to be tied for the lead in a solid par on 18, which got me my first victory. It was worth $665,000.
My second highlight, I would say, would be winning for the second time a few months later at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis. I shot 65-64 on the weekend to come from behind to win again. That year I was one of four hottest golfers to win multiple times along with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Tell us about your youth when you were just learning the game. Did you have any inkling that you would one day go on to compete – and win – on such a high professional level?
My dad got me involved when I was eight, nine and 10 years old, and I loved it. He was a great teacher –not many words, just mostly by doing.
I love watching the pro players on TV and in person. We could watch a tour event when it was close to our home.
I’d say I was about 15 when I knew I wanted to play on the pro tour level.
Becoming a top golfer requires a lot of hard work and practice. Was there someone who encouraged or inspired you along the way?
My dad was passionate about golf, so he did it all the time – other than his work. He had his own chemical sales company. He learned the game by being a caddy when he was young. He would make $2 for carrying a golf bag around, sometimes up to $5 for carrying the golf bag for nine or 18 holes.
He was always inspiring to me: a super-positive attitude and a hard-work ethic. Very loving, very consistent, very fair, and he always had our backs.
My two brothers were instrumental because they’re older and they love golf, too. So at times we would play together or practice together. I was always watching them because they were better when they were teenagers and in their 20s than me, and I always picked up good tips and quickly learned from them.
When I was a pro I was introduced to Jim McLean, a famous golf coach, and he was with me for 15 years and was instrumental to my professional success. Not only did Jim teach me a lot about the golf swing and consistency, but he gave me a lot of confidence on how to deal with winning on the PGA TOUR.
What advice would you give young people who would like to pursue a professional golfing career?
Give it all you got. It’s a great life and go after it. Don’t be distracted by social media and what other people are thinking. And work harder than others. Always surround yourself with great people and a loving circle.
Tell us about the Len Mattiace Foundation and what it does.
My Len Mattiace Foundation has two pillars. We conduct monthly events to raise money for kids’ programs at The First Tee of North Florida. These are at various country clubs in the North Florida area where we connect members with The First Tee kids’ nine-hole events, and it’s really great energy. Friendships evolve. We raise money, as well. Since the year 2000, we have raised over $400,000 for The First Tee of North Florida.
Our second pillar has nothing to do with golf. It’s a Stop the Bullying Campaign in Duval County. We partner with Communities In Schools. We’re inside about 20 different schools, reaching kids from roughly nine years old to 17 years old. We give the students monthly initiatives to talk about bullying, the effects and how it can be better. We’re trying to change the energy around. The bullying is a very serious topic. It can affect children and families in a very, very deep way. So, we recognize that, and we want to give kids every chance to be in a school environment that can be safe, healthy and so they can prosper onward. These monthly initiatives that the kids do can be service projects, posters, papers, speeches, different things for different months. Every month, we have a different theme, and we’re really proud of the work we’re doing. This has been going on now for three years. With more funding we can reach more kids, we can recognize schools and kids and keep spreading the word in a very healthy positive way.
You attended Nease High School and live in Jacksonville. What do you like best about making your home in Northeast Florida?
People who live here know it’s a great place to live. The beach is close and, especially for golfers, the weather is fantastic. It’s not a super-huge city like Atlanta or Houston but big enough to where we have all of the amenities that we need.
I feel like I could live anywhere in the world, but I choose to live here. I love the people, the weather, the location, so it all works. My time at Nease High School was fantastic. At the time, Nease was brand new, and everybody was kind of learning the ropes. They were very important years for my golf. Looking back – I started there in ninth grade – and ninth grade, 10th grade, 11th grade, 12th grade, I got better and better as a golfer where I was the number one junior in the country in the rankings.
In your spare time, do you have any hobbies or special interests you enjoy?
I love any type of athletic activity: biking, swimming, hanging out with friends, but most of my spare time I’m dedicated to my foundation. When I’m not competing, it’s a full-time passion to be able to help kids in the community we live in.
How can people get involved?
I would ask people to help get involved whether they be a sponsor of the foundation or want to volunteer. They can contact me on lenmattiace.com for more information. We are grateful that we raised a total of $500,000 for various Jacksonville charities, and we’re looking forward to hitting the million mark in a couple years from now.