By the time Matt Savage graduated from St. Xavier in 2005, he had established himself as one of Kentucky’s most promising young golfers.
Winner of the individual state crown his senior year, he also lead the Tigers to the team title and was named Kentucky’s Mr. Golf. The National High School Golf Coaches Association dubbed him Player of the Year.
His four years at Florida State saw more of the same. He became the Seminoles’ first three-time All-ACC honoree and his 63 in the 2nd round of the ’08 Florida State Spring Break Invitational is the lowest round score in program history.
Now two years removed from college graduation, Savage, 24, is navigating the difficult limbo between a successful amateur career and making it as a professional.
After winning his first event as a pro, the ’09 Kentucky Open, Savage endured a checkered first season on the National Golf Association/Hooters Tour without a top-20 finish.
This year, Savage has rebounded.
Already he’s recorded three top-10 finishes and currently ranks 29th on the money list.
“It’s a pretty big adjustment from college,” said Savage. “I didn’t have a lot of fun last year but I’m enjoying it more now.”
Sponsored by the national restaurant chain, the NGA/Hooters Tour is professional golf’s third largest tour and serves as a breeding ground for the game’s future stars.
Products of the tour include Stewart Cink, Ben Curtis, John Daly and Zach Johnson. In addition to its Pro Series, with the largest fields and richest purses, the NGA/Hooters Tour also includes the Carolina Series, in which players compete among smaller fields at courses in North and South Carolina.
Savage, who is based in Tallahassee, plays events in both the Pro Series and Carolina Series. “It’s a ton of great players and a great way to learn and get better,” he said.
In addition, he will be playing in several Nationwide Tour qualifiers this season and come winter, he is planning to give PGA Qualifying School a third try.
“The PGA Tour is where I want to be and I want to make it up there as quick as possible,” said Savage. “It’s really not that glamorous until you get to the PGA Tour…and that’s how it should be. You shouldn’t have incentive to stay on the Hooters Tour forever.”
St. Xavier teammate Jessie Mudd thinks Savage has the tools. “He is a confident player. Has a great short game and is a very good putter,” said Mudd. “He works hard but keeps it friendly and light on the course.”
After graduating from the University of Florida in ’07, Mudd, Kentucky’s high school individual state champion in ’02 and a two-time Mr. Golf honoree, is attempting to carve out a pro career of his own.
“I’m playing in as many events as I can this summer and working toward Q-School,” he said.
Among local golf products, Savage and Mudd are not alone in their attempts to make a splash on the pro scene.
After turning pro last August, Jesse Massie, an ’05 Trinity graduate, began playing in the Carolina Winter Series and finished the season 6th on the money list.
Massie was a member of Trinity’s state championship team in ’03 and played his college golf at Eastern Kentucky. Still based in Louisville, he trains 30 hours a week at Seneca Golf Course where course pro Kevin Greenwell has been his teacher for the past 13 years.
Massie said the prospect of playing golf for a living is exciting. “If I play well, I make money. I still get a kick out of that,” he said.
Massie often splits a hotel room with his close friend and fellow Louisvillian Jared Wolfe. An ’06 Butler High School graduate, Wolfe also grew up playing at Seneca under the tutelage of Greenwell.
Now in his rookie season on the Tour, Wolfe has missed just three cuts in 11 Carolina Summer Series events. Earlier this month, the Murray State alum shot a 2-under 69 in the final round of an event at Charlotte National and finished 2nd.
Ryan Britt, an ’04 St. Xavier graduate who played alongside Massie at EKU, has made only a handful of cuts on the Pro Series since joining the tour in ’09, but has found success in the Carolina Summer Series (four top-10 finishes in the last two seasons).
Britt, who is based in Orlando during the winter, is looking to put together more blemish-free rounds. “It’s just a matter of eliminating those one or two bad swings that cost you,” he said.
One tour stop all five players are anxiously awaiting is next month’s Georgetown, Ky., NGA Classic at Cherry Blossom Golf and Country Club (May 19-22). Savage, Mudd, Massie, Wolfe and Britt are all scheduled to play.
photos by Shawn Klages | courtesy