In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Matti Schmid talks about a whirlwind year: From winning the Silver Medal to turning pro and being crowned Rookie of the Year
To be finishing the year as the second German after Martin Kaymer to win Rookie of the Year is quite incredible to me to be honest, and something I never thought would happen. When my manager Irek called me and told me the news, he sent me an article with a list of the names of players I would be joining who had won this before me, and it’s an honour to be alongside them. It’s been such a surreal few months for me, and I’m obviously very excited about it.
It’s the second time in the last few months I’ve had this feeling, and as a true golf fan who loves watching and following golf, it’s incredible to be added to part of the game’s history. The other time I felt like this was after winning the Silver Medal at The Open in July. It also has an exceptional list of former winners, and it’s amazing to think that my heroes growing up were Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer, and between these two honours my name is now alongside all three of them.
I feel very thankful to a lot of people for helping me get here, and the first of those is really my dad, who is my biggest mentor in the game. I started playing golf when I was about four years old because he was the Head Professional at my local golf club, where he would teach kids twice a week and I just naturally would join in. During holidays I’d go with him early in the morning and spent all day at the range or playing with buddies while he coached, and then go home with him at night. We really just both loved the game too, and if we weren’t playing we’d be talking about it or watching it, and we would often go and watch the BMW International Open in Munich. I loved it as much as he did. By the time I was ten or 11 I made it into the Bavarian team, and by 15 the German National team. I also had a great group of friends around me that played and we would push each other, but I don’t think I’d be where I am now without my dad. Even now our relationship is special.
I also think I have college to thank for a lot. I only graduated in May, and the last four years helped my golf tremendously. I had always planned to become professional, but after school I played a few amateur events in Spain and Portugal and realised I wasn’t quite ready. So I went to a guy called Ted Long to talk about college recruitment, and he introduced me to Louisville: I thought I could try it out for a year and if I liked it great, and if I didn’t I could always come home. I ended up loving it, stayed for all four years to complete my degree in finance, and became a much better player.
When I grew up coaching was an hour on the driving range and was about your swing, but in college the difference in having a coach who followed you on the course and helped you with course management and shot selection improved my game immensely. We took a different look at things than what I had in Germany, and I got better at all of it: shots I needed to hit, flights I needed to produce, and it paid off big time. College was massive for me in preparing me for life on Tour, and it wasn’t just about the coaches. We also had Louisville graduate and former PGA Tour player Ted Schulz around to help and join us on the course sometimes, and that insight was such a help for me. I also had great teammates. Everyone had different strengths and weaknesses, and I realised that if you allow yourself to watch how other guys do things or ask for help, the benefits you can gain from taking advantage of that can be really big for your game when it comes to taking it on Tour.
I’d actually always planned to do four years of college and then turn professional right after, but because I won the European Amateur in 2020, I decided to wait until after The Open – and it was a decision I’m glad I made! That week at Royal St. George’s was amazing, but it was also different because it was the first time I’d played in a big competition like that and not had my dad on the bag. My manager set up my caddie for me, and I ended up having Michael ‘Spongey’ Waite on my bag – who won the U.S. Open with Michael Campbell in 2005. It turned out to be the best thing we could have done, because he was awesome, the perfect caddie for me, and someone else I’m thankful to!
That first round I played decent enough but had some bad breaks towards the end of the round and shot four over, which was which was well outside the cut line at that time. But Spongey is the calmest man I know, and where my dad and I might have talked it to death about what I could have done better, he didn’t do that at all. He turned to me afterwards and he said: ‘Hey you did great, you played a good round of golf and if you get a bit more luck with the putter we’re going to great tomorrow’. It just really helped me relax. Then on Friday things turned around and I played great, made the putts on the back nine and that helped with everything. I tied the lowest round shot by an amateur in the history of The Open with a 65, made the cut, and went on to win the Silver Medal. He’s pretty much been with me for every event since!
Going up to accept my medal was a really great moment, and it was cool to be alongside Collin Morikawa. When we got introduced to each other by the green he remembered me from college, which was nice, and said some really nice words about me in the award ceremony too, and that meant a lot. I’ve had experiences in the past through my management playing with Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey who have said nice things about my game, and it means a lot when guys like that build you up.
But Collin is a great guy, and I can’t believe how mature and cool he is for his age. But it’s also cool to see someone who was at college at the same time as me do so well: I played at the same time at Viktor Hovland and Matt Wolff too, and when you see guys like that have success, it’s not too hard to think if they can prove themselves after a good college career then why can’t I.
After that week I turned professional, and it’s crazy to think about how these few months have unfolded because at that time I wasn’t thinking about Rookie of the Year at all! At the time, I was hoping for status on any Tour, and was grateful the Silver Medal opened a few doors for me with some unexpected invites. There were a few weeks where I would be unsure where I was playing next and then would only find out at the weekend I was playing the following week. I think I ended up playing six or seven weeks in a row because I didn’t want to turn down any opportunity as I didn’t know when I would get the chance again.
I ended up missing the cut at the Hero Open in St. Andrews so decided to take week off and assess, and that was when we thought I should focus on the Challenge Tour. I’d ended up having a long discussion with my manager who said it would be super difficult to gain status with the few tournaments left so we might as well focus on Challenge Tour, so that’s what I did. But I did have one more invite to the Dutch Open – one I’d been given even before I won the Silver Medal – and I took the opportunity. I felt good about my game that week, but when I finished second it changed so much for me. It helped me gain status, but it also helped my confidence. I always knew I had it in me to compete at the highest level, but to play my best in a pressure situation over the weekend in front of fans just really helped my self-belief. I also learned a big lesson too: that you don’t need to do anything special and you don’t need miracles, you just need to play your game and trust your doing the right thing to be able to compete.
A little sneak peek of what happened yesterday out at Bernardus Golf 🇳🇱🦅 @DutchOpen2021 pic.twitter.com/Ktoe4UgXle— Matti Schmid (@Matt_9977) September 19, 2021
After that week I played well at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, and it was then my manager told me about my ranking and potential of Rookie of the Year. Until then it was Max Kieffer who had been my real mentor on Tour, playing practice rounds with me and telling me how rankings worked, but when my management told me it felt a bit more real. It definitely added a bit more pressure but I’m glad I was able to cap it off, and I’m now just excited to get going next year. I haven’t really thought goals for next season yet, but I am hoping that if I work on the right things and do things correctly, there will be some more good things to come. Ultimately in my golfing career my big goal is to win the Green Jacket, but until I can get an opportunity to do that I have a lot of things I can still improve in my game, and I’m excited to see what happens.