Thanks to miracle, Tour pro makes a cut. And emotionally avoids quitting

Matt Atkins

Matt Atkins earlier this year.

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Matt Atkins, on Friday, after the miracle, was asked just four questions at Sea Island Golf Club. They were enough, though.  

Question one:

“I’ll start with the finish there, three-straight birdies. Can you walk us through the emotions of that finish?” 

Yeah, OK, he could, but we’ll help with some context. Oh, but where to begin? Actually, that’s easy. Family. Always them. Always first. The bespectacled 32-year-old from Pennsylvania and his wife, Jill, are parents to two young girls, Emma and Audrey. His pictures on Instagram of the gang, by the way, are all adorable. 

And yes, with this being a golf website and all, Atkins is a golfer. Through his children’s lives and most of his, Atkins has played. He starred at the University of South Carolina-Aiken. He turned pro in 2013. And over that decade, he’s achieved what all but a sliver of the golfing globe could only wish for. Twenty-five top 25s on the Korn Ferry Tour. A win in 2017. A full season on the PGA Tour, too, in 2017-18, where he cashed six times. This year? It’s been OK, with 14 cuts made in 21 starts on the Korn Ferry, though earlier this month, he missed advancing in Tour Q-School by one stroke.

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But here is where things get most fun, from the golf standpoint.

Atkins thought he was close. We all do. The golfer’s plight. Only he was right. He entered this week’s Monday qualifier for the RSM Classic, the final PGA Tour event of the year, and he survived.

And on Thursday, in round one, he shot a one-under 71. 

But on Friday, in round two, he was leaderboard watching. And leaderboard wincing. Everyone else was 100-meter sprinting, it seemed, and he was waiting for the gun. Fifteen holes. One birdie. Fourteen pars. Come on, man. 

Then, on his 16th hole, a par-5, he birdied. Atkins two-putted from 70 feet.  

Then, on his 17th hole, a par-4, he birdied. Atkins dropped a wedge to 4 feet. 

Then, on his 18th hole, another par-4, he birdied. Atkins worked a 5-wood to the left side of the fairway, nerved a 9-iron to 12 feet past the hole and dead-centered the putt. 

He’s in for the weekend. 

Shoot, he can smell the lead. He’s six back. 

So yeah, walk us through the emotions of that finish. Please. 

“So this week was a huge opportunity for me Monday-qualifying. I just didn’t want to let it slip by, but I tried to just tell myself even if — even if it’s meant for you to just play and enjoy the experience, you have to be satisfied with that. 

“You know, I kind of thought about that as I was walking up 7 [his 16th hole], and lo and behold, I finish birdie, birdie, birdie.”

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Question two:

“How would you summarize what’s on the line for you this week and what you’re playing for this week?”

Yeah, he could. 

But how? 

How do you summarize that this week was maybe it? That he needed to quit?

He had said as much Monday, after qualifying. Maybe you could’ve already guessed that, though. Playing golf as a job is truly sublime, but making a living at it is quite suboptimal. For every Rahm and Rory, there are thousands of Matt Atkinses, who are seemingly a stroke away — and a stroke away. Yeah, he’s made those cuts this year. But he’s also won just over $88,000, which is nice, when you don’t account for expenses. 

And family. Always first, right? 

How do you summarize that?? 

Here goes. 

“Yeah. So I’m a conditional Korn Ferry member. I won an event out there in 2017. I played the 2017-2018 season out here. I am without a doubt a better player than I was the year I was out here, and the last four or five years results-wise haven’t been the best. It’s just been in that whole time, I’ve had two kids and we’ve grown our family, and it’s awesome. With that comes a little bit higher expenses, traveling playing the Korn Ferry Tour, and playing average or below-average golf is losing me money out there. 

“So I kind of came into the end of this year going into Q-School with an opportunity to get all the way to the final stage and even get out here on the PGA Tour with the change in Q-School with five cards there. There was like a two-week stretch at home where I was just, it felt like I had lost it and it was right when I was going to Q-School and I played so poor and I was like, man, that is — it was just rough to go through that. 

“But I knew, hey, I still have status, still can make something happen, but financially was in a position where paying bills was going to be almost impossible. 

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“So this was …”

Atkins stopped. You know why. You know what he was doing. 

“Getting into the event was an opportunity, but making the cut …”

He stopped again. 

“And making a check, we can at least pay our bills next couple months.

“You know, I took a big leap of faith trusting in the Lord a couple weeks ago and I told my wife I couldn’t have been more confident in the decision I made. We had been praying for just clarity and just direction on what to do, and discernment. This week was an unknown after I qualified, but I think the Lord has shown, Matt, this is where you’re supposed to be, stop, stop playing for yourself and for worldly things, just glorify me.”

He stopped again.  

“Sorry.”

The questioner said he could take his time. Atkins then continued.  

“And with our life, where everything’s at in a personal matter, it’s the first time I would say that, not that I broke down, but that I was fully like, OK, God, I can talk the talk, it’s time to walk it. Having that faith doesn’t mean that I was going to play well this week or that I was going to qualify, it just means that I’m going to follow Him wherever He wants me to go. This qualifying here, making the cut is Him, I think, pointing me in that direction of this is where I want you. 

“So that’s what I’m playing for this week. My goal is to — if I were to get back out full time on the Korn Ferry or out here, to not slip back into the selfish nature that is within all of us that, because golf’s very individual, it’s very performance based and, you know, you can’t — there’s nothing you can do performance-wise that makes you good enough. 

“My hope is that moving forward I wouldn’t fall back into that, that I would just work for the Lord and that He would be satisfied with what I’m doing glorifying him and not making it about me anymore.” 

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Question three:

“Matt, are you an emotional guy normally?”

Actually, he said he wasn’t. 

“But yeah, it’s just been a really overwhelming time and I think it’s because, like I said, I was at a point where it’s like you can’t just talk about it, you have to live it. I think it was just an overwhelming thing in a positive way. 

“Like none of the emotional moments on Monday or right now are sad or depressing or should be looked at as a, ‘man, this guy’s going through a lot.’ It’s like, yeah, that could be true, that could be one way that some people could look at it, but the overwhelming emotions have been of gratitude and seeing that the Lord is good and He will provide even when it seems like there is no way. 

“You know, wasn’t sure if we were going to pay bills even come January. The Lord says, listen, I love you more than anything; I will provide. It’s my promise. Don’t put yourself in stuff here that you see in front of you. 

“So the emotions have been overwhelming because of that. I’ve seen His promise and I shouldn’t need to see it to know it, but that’s how I’m feeling right now.”

Question four: 

“What’s something from you this year or in the recent past that you wish you could have changed, you would have done differently?” 

One thing. 

“This year? I think it’s just so easy to get caught up in like this is a job for everybody out here. Like I said, it’s performance based, it’s competitive, it’s individual and it’s so easy to get caught up in kind of like the rat race of pro golf. 

“Obviously you should always try to improve your game and all that sort of stuff, but I don’t know, I think it’s just the mentality the last four, five years of wanting to play well for money, for whatever it is. I’m not a super materialistic person, but it’s almost like I was putting security in money. It’s like, oh, if we could just play well and have enough sitting there to play the next few years going forward, that’s where I’ll be secure. So security’s not in money. 

“I think that’s the biggest thing I would have changed, just my outlook on that whole situation and not caring about that so much. Like I said, knowing that there will be enough to eat, to drink and to have clothes and stuff like that. 

“So I think that would be the thing I would change the most, is just being out here and playing and not being so concerned with what each week or what status on the Tour will do for the next however many years. Just be — still be present, be here in this moment and just enjoy it and whatever happens is always meant to happen. It’s what’s meant to be. 

“Even if that means winning numerous times, if that means losing your job, it’s for a reason greater than you can see at the moment, and sometimes you could be blinded to it because you’re so focused on what you wanted instead of seeing the opportunity that’s going to come from it.”

At this point, Atkins was finished. He walked away. 

At 9:26 a.m. on Saturday, he was going to play golf. 

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Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.

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