Ivan – Many congratulations, once again, Matthew! While it must be very satisfying to find yourself the first Irishman to be in possession of a prestigious USGA trophy, (in my opinion, the greatest achievement by any Irish amateur golfer ever), can you explain the anomaly that you have yet to win a ‘major’ championship at home?
Matthew McClean – Having a USGA trophy in my possession is a privilege that I never envisaged. To be the first Irish player makes it all the more special. In terms of Irish championships, I have come very close on a number of occasions over the past 3-years and have felt for a while that winning one was ‘around the corner’. That an USGA trophy became my first big win was quite unexpected.
Ivan – I understand you are ‘almost’ 30? That’s old by today’s amateur golf standards. Were you a slow developer or did you take up the game later than most?
Matthew – Compared to the average age of amateur fields it would be fair to say I am older than most. From an early age, I was always a relatively talented golfer – although I also played football and gaelic up until the age of 15/16, when I decided to focus on golf. I represented Ulster at boys’ level and then studied Optometry at Ulster University. I then went on to work and live in Newcastle Upon Tyne, and although I still played golf throughout these years it was nowhere near enough to be competitive at the top level. Realising this, I decided to move back home to work part-time so I could play the amateur circuit full-time. It’s the only way to succeed.
Ivan – How many layers of pre-qualifying did you have to go through before you knew you were in the field at Erin Hills?
Matthew – Thankfully, Hugh Foley and I were exempt because we were both within the top-40 of the world mid-amateur rankings.
Ivan – It was a huge commitment in terms of time and money to cross the Atlantic knowing you could easily have been dispatched in the first round? How did the idea of entering germinate in the first place and, how did you manage the time off after such a long and busy season? How did you fund it? Did you receive any assistance from Golf Ireland?
Matthew – Fellow Irish team member, Marc Boucher, raised the notion in May of this year. Initially we had no funding as it was not part of Golf Ireland’s calendar but, Hugh Foley and I decided to go anyway. As it turned out we did get GI funding, which helped a lot. With a view to seeing how far I could go in the game, for the last three or four years I have worked as a part-time, Locum Optometrist during the off season. Being funded by Golf Ireland in certain events does help. Funding from Sport Northern Ireland also helps and I shouldn’t forget the assistance I receive from my parents over the years, plus my own savings. I am not married; do not have any kids and my girlfriend has been very understanding.
— Irish Amateur golf info (@amateur_info) December 20, 2022
Ivan – it makes quite a change from ‘my day’ when amateurs got zilch. We were not allowed to accept expenses of any kind, not even half a dozen golf balls. Opposing an Irish team colleague in the final must have made for a surreal experience?
Matthew – It was incredible to be able to share it with Hugh. We pushed each other on throughout the tournament and jokingly suggested the unlikely outcome of meeting in the final even before the tournament started. We stayed together since we got there, so we quickly became comfortable in each other’s company. The boring reality was that every night we got home: we ate some food and went to sleep shortly afterwards. Not much changed the night before the last day.
Ivan – How will you prepare for next year’s Masters and the US Open in Los Angeles? More time off, more expense; has any organisation volunteered to assist you?
Matthew – Often, The Masters clashes with the West and the US Open clashes with The (British) Amateur so, I would not be working during those weeks anyway. Obviously, expenses for these weeks will be higher than normal. I will have to find out what funding options are available. Hopefully, it will all work out over the next couple of months.
Ivan – You will have plenty of volunteers for caddying duties at Augusta, any thoughts?
Matthew – Due to the severe difficulty of the course and the insider knowledge required to give myself the best chance of doing well, I have been advised to employ a local Augusta Caddy for the whole week. I am hoping my friends will understand and forgive me?
Ivan – If you were an American, you’d be pencilled in for Walker Cup duty at St. Andrews next summer already. The USGA always selects two mid-amateurs (and rightly so!) whereas the GB&I side is packed with guys under 22 (all wannabe pros using the Walker Cup to boost their brand). After the brilliant season you (and Hugh Foley) have had, you both must be on the Walker Cup selectors’ radar. Would you consider a pro career if you are honoured with Walker Cup selection or, do you intend to be an optometrist who plays golf par-time for life?
Matthew – Currently, I am undecided about any long-term future plans. Walker Cup selection is undoubtedly the main goal for next year. It is the pinnacle for an amateur. I hope to be in a more ‘settled mindset’ by the end of the 2023 season. Being an amateur for life is an increasingly rare breed, nevertheless, it is a fulfilling and enjoyable option for me to consider.
Ivan – Thank you for speaking to me on behalf Irish Golfer Magazine. Here’s wishing you every success in everything you do in life and golf. You have already proved that you are an exceptional and unique talent.