Mat Webb reflects on his remarkable success as a PGA professional in the last two seasons and shares his plans for the future with Dean Bailey
Every sportsperson marks their arrival on a particular stage differently. For Mat Webb, an 11-time winner this season, the spotlight was on him throughout his teenage years – in my particular case when he sported pink tartan trousers and bleached blonde hair en route to winning the Northumberland county championship in 2012.
“Things have changed a lot since then,” he says as we recall his win at Newbiggin in his early 20s. “What on Earth was I thinking?” he adds with a wry smile.
Four years on the 27-year-old – dressed in more subdued fashion – has more than 20 professional titles to his name, including this year’s Galvin Green PGA Assistants’ Championship and the Australian National Futures Championship.
A third-year assistant to his father Marcus, head pro at Bedlingtonshire Golf Club, Mat admits finding his feet as a professional golfer has not been easy.
“When I first turned pro and tried to make it as a player on the EuroPro Tour it was tough. I didn’t appreciate what professional golf was going to be like. I knew I was a decent player but had no idea how good you had to be to compete with the guys out there. It was easy to get to a position where I thought I could turn pro but making it as a pro was a very different thing. Being unable to perform my best week-in-week-out left me doubting whether this was the right thing to do.
“After two years of trying to play it just wasn’t going forwards. I had to re-evaluate and change what I was doing.”
Relaxing on a short visit home after returning from a tough schedule which saw him fly to the UK from Australia and head straight into the PGA Play-Offs in Saunton – where he struggled and finished well down the field – Mat is incredibly open about the choices which haven’t worked out.
“I was really good amateur playing off plus-three, I turned pro and I was a s*** professional,” he admits.
Having played professionally for two years with limited success Mat made the decision to join the PGA for the 2015 season – one he admits he should have made earlier.
“Going out there and playing straight away wasn’t the right route for me. Though I would have done things differently knowing what I know now, I learned a lot about playing golf professionally.
“Golf is all about being able to figure out how you get better then going out and doing it. I learned where I needed to be and what I needed to do to get there.
“It was a big wake up call. I don’t think it was a case of not being good enough; I just wasn’t capable of performing to my best at that level. I felt I wasn’t achieving anything, I was spending a lot of money and I didn’t know what I would do outside of playing golf for a living.
“Since joining the PGA a lot of the pressure has been lifted. I’m now getting my qualifications and know I have a very good career to step into should I decide to stop pursuing being a tour player.”
On the course Mat – who has also won the PGA Fourball Championship alongside Alex Belt, and the
NE/NW PGA Championship at Westerhope this season – says that playing in smaller fields locally and working his way up to bigger events made a huge difference.
“Without the PGA accreditation there aren’t a lot of doors open if you’re not ready to compete on the EuroPro. To be able to enter things like the local PGA pro ams was a huge boost to my confidence. The shorter format and being closer to home gave me a chance to get some wins under my belt and get a little bit of money coming in. For the first time as a pro, I felt like I was moving forwards.
“Winning gets easier every time you do it. I know when I’m in a situation to win and playing well, I can win. I don’t have to prove that to everybody anymore. That takes a little pressure off and allows me to concentrate on getting the job done.”
His confidence continued to grow and ahead of 2016 Mat set his sights on the PGA Assistants’ title and European Tour Qualifying School.
“Being able to perform when you need to is huge. You don’t get too many events – Q School is once a year and there aren’t loads of assistants’ events out there – so you have to take your chances.”
His drive to improve and move forward is a recurring theme. Rather than dwelling on his success in the last 12 months, Mat is far more passionate discussing his plans for the future.
“Each win and good week so far is a stepping stone. You have to celebrate those successes but then put them to the back of your mind and look to the next, bigger thing.
“I’m in a really fortunate position where I can see where things lead and take each opportunity that comes up. I have to re-evaluate every month and planning too far in advance is near impossible right now.
“I set out a plan for the year and wanted to win the assistants’ title but I hadn’t planned on being sponsored by Galvin Green or getting an invite to Australia. There’s a lot that can happen really quickly and change everything. It’s exciting and daunting all at the same time.”
A relative latecomer, he got his first handicap of 33 aged 14, Mat’s progression through the junior ranks was fast.
By the time he was 18, with a handicap of one, he took a golf scholarship at junior college in Texas – a move which changed his golf game and set him on the path to becoming a professional.
“I’m super-competitive and that really came out when I was younger and I improved quickly. It took until I went to the US to realise what it would take to become a really good amateur,” says Mat. “I went from a one-handicapper to playing off plus-three in two years.”
On his return Mat spent two more years as an amateur, when his lack of elite golf in his teens restricted his access to top events through the ranking system, before turning pro in 2012.
Outside of his time spent in the US, Mat says the skills he has developed in the last two years with the help of Andrew Nicholson have brought the biggest change to his ability to win.
“On the course the biggest change has been being able to know what’s going to happen before it happens. The difference in my ability to control the ball, and the thinking process to do that, has been huge.
“Away from golf, it’s been about being who I am and doing my own thing. You have to take control of your own path.”
Though planning his future is tough, as Mat comes to the end of his season he has started to think about what lies ahead.
“Leaving Q School to one side as it’s impossible to bank on, I’d like to look into playing the PGA Tour China next year. I’ll have my qualifications done by then and I think the lifestyle of being away playing golf breeds a better golfer. In order to improve you have to learn from different people, experience different things and play in an environment which will improve your game.”
As Mat has found out in the last four years, there are many routes to becoming a professional golfer and those routes can change quickly. For now though it’s time to cover some shop hours and plan his next step.