The 34-year-old has numerous wins under his belt, including taking home the top prize in mini golf in 2015.
The eighth hole of the Putterz miniature golf course in Newark is “where good rounds go to die,” says Matt Male, one of the top pros on the U.S. ProMiniGolf Association tour and winner of the 2015 Master’s, the organization’s most prestigious event.
Sure enough, during a recent practice round, Male’s ball, always a white Callaway 2017, rolled up the gentle slope and onto the small, raised area surrounding the hole. It appeared headed for a hole-in-one, then lipped out and rolled slowly, then faster, down the other side of the slope and bounced off the rail. His next shot also lipped out and rolled down another side of the hill. “You can see how this can drive you crazy,” Male says, with a shrug and a smile, of the frustrating eighth hole at his “home” course specifically, and about mini-golf in general. “I’m usually 50-50 on aces on this hole.”
Aces are holes-in-one, and something the top pros must to do with amazing consistency. So yes, mini golf, aka putt-putt, requires skill and nerves of steel, qualities that the calm, cool Male seems to possess in abundance.Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
“Years ago, it was just a fun thing to do, with alligators and clowns and windmills on the courses,” says Bob Detwiler, president of the U.S. ProMiniGolf Association. “It wasn’t serious. We changed the courses, with undulations and water hazards, and then we started the Master’s in 1997. Ever since, we’ve been growing and getting big. Not big compared to the NFL, but we’re getting there.”
As big as the NFL? This seems to be wishful, windmill-tilting thinking, but the sport is growing and several of the tour’s tournaments are televised.
Television is how Male, 34, who grew up in Washington Courthouse, first learned of the mini golf tour. “I vividly remember, back in 1998, watching a putt-putt match on ESPN and was instantly intrigued,” he recalls. “The announcer said to inquire at your local miniature golf course to see if they had [weekly] tournaments.”
Male inquired and began playing competitively. He turned pro in 2014. “There’s no elaborate process to becoming a pro, you just sign up,” he says. His career highlights include: third at the 2014 U.S. Open, sixth at the 2016 U.S. Open and playing for Team USA at the World Minigolf Sport Federation world championships in 2016 (Kosovo) and 2017 (Croatia). “Matt is one of our better young players right now,” Detwiler says.
The Master’s is the mini golf equivalent of the Masters that Tiger Woods recently won, other than the apostrophe (for legal reasons) and prize money. Woods won $2 million and a coveted green jacket; Male won $4,000 and the coveted green windbreaker.
“Matt doesn’t make mistakes. He’s patient and consistent,” says Jeff Studer, 52, another local mini golf pro.
Male says he was a pretty good but not great “regular” golfer, a lot better with a putter than an iron or driver. “They say that in golf, the closer you get to the hole, the more mental it becomes,” he says. “Putting is the most mental part of golf, and it’s all we do.”
Mini golf also demands a thorough knowledge of geometry and physics, as several holes require players to precisely bank the ball off one, two and occasionally three rails for an ace. “That’s why I use the Callaway,” says Male, who spends hours locating his banking spots at the new courses he plays on tour. “The Calloway bounces more consistently. And, when you pick a spot [on the rail to hit], you need to be confident the ball will do what you want it to do.”
Male and most of the top pros work “regular” jobs, as the prize money isn’t what Woods and Phil Mickelson rake in. Male is a copy editor at JPMorgan Chase, a careful and precise job that seems appropriate for a mini golfer. Because of his full-time job, he can’t play the complete pro circuit and saves his precious vacation days for the bigger events. The Master’s will take place Oct. 9–12 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Male will be there.
“We don’t do it f or the money,” Male says.
“We do it for fun, seeing people I’ve known for years from all over the country at tournaments,” Studer adds. “It’s like our family.”
“And we do it for the green windbreaker,” Male says.
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