ST. CHARLES – Hollering at tee shots, engaging his caddy and keeping would-be stragglers in line, Matt Daly sure showed his demonstrative side over the past three weekends at Pottawatomie Golf Course.
On the green, in the clubhouse – even in the parking lot – Daly's candor preceded him at the St. Charles Men's Tournament. So how was he still capable of revealing a surprise?
It's hard to believe Daly had been burned out on golf for much of his early- and mid-20s, but Sunday's showing reaffirmed why the 27-year-old is back. Armed with a steady strategy and his share of swagger, Daly defeated friend Garrett Patten, 4 and 3, in the championship flight final for his first tournament title.
"I kind of got disinterested with golf for a little bit there, and then I found it, found my love again for it," Daly said. "It's been a heck of a trip."
Steady play and a job in the golfing industry contributed to Daly's fade from the game. While he never truly quit playing, Daly saw his rounds gradually taper off in the years following his 2004 graduation from St. Charles East.
With his caddy, Danny Covalsky, as his frequent playing partner, Daly had taken to Pottawatomie for most weekends this season. It's a little easier to improve, he admits, when you're looking for full-time work.
Daly played the first nine holes at even par and still found himself two holes ahead of Patten, a 1998 alumnus of St. Charles High. The pair had met through mutual friends and remained in touch when Daly worked in sales for Geneva-based Vulcan Golf after high school.
After shooting a qualifying 73 on the final weekend of July – breaking a five-year tournament hiatus – Daly quickly sold himself on his match-play approach. Keeping his first shots in play while maintaining a steady mental game paid off Sunday.
"Just try not to make any big numbers. No big mistakes," Daly said. "That kept me in it the whole time. They've got to beat you. Don't beat yourself."
Patten traditionally outdistanced Daly off the tee, but an array of solid second shots helped Daly make up the difference, namely at the Par-4, 325-yard eighth hole. Moments after hitting his 3-hybrid just to the right about two-thirds up the fairway, Daly yelled at the A-flight pairing on Patten's behalf.
Patten was looking to drive the green, and a cart was blocking his projected landing spot. While Patten's tee shot settled a short chip away from the pin, Daly wound up with a closer putt after expertly lofting a 5-iron with his approach.
Daly and Patten halved the eighth and ninth holes before Patten rolled in a lengthy eagle putt to win the Par-5 10th. The ball fell in several seconds after apparently settling just inches past the cup.
Unquestionably, Patten saw it as a momentum-shifter, but he gave the hole right back by bogeying No. 11 after struggling with a short putt. On the first loop, when it played as No. 2, Patten did the same thing, allowing Daly to draw even after Patten had won the opening hole.
"It just kind of comes and goes," Patten said. "I'll play months without having problems with the little putts, and then all of a sudden, when you're playing for something that you want to win..."
After the round, the yips had Patten pondering a possible change to a belly putter, the kind Daly uses.
Daly capitalized on further Patten putting woes to win the 12th hole and go ahead by three. Both players halved the 13th, but Patten's missed gimme for par that would have given him the hole took its toll on the next tee box.
Patten's shoot hooked out of bounds, into an Illinois nature preserve, where "Everything is protected by law," per a sign. As Daly took a penalty stroke and a provisional tee shot, Daly's grip on the city title seemed especially safe, as a par put him 4-up.
"That shot was more out of anger," Patten said. "I missed that little putt, so I kind of snap-hooked that one."
Daly clinched the championship when he and Patten halved No. 15, then hopped in a cart with a family member for a triumphant ride back to the clubhouse.
Sandwiches, snacks and a trophy presentation awaited.
"Pretty awesome spread," Daly said, flanked by his girlfriend, caddy and family.
After some time away, a guy could get used to this.