In the 27 years since his family moved from Jericho to Florida. In that span, Len Mattiace has grown up, become a husband, father and winner on the PGA Tour. He nearly won the Masters then injured both knees in a skiing accident that devastated his career. Through all of that, one thing that never has changed is his opinion of the courses on which he learned to play.
" Long Island golf is really the way golf should be," he said on the phone from Florida. "I'm biased, but I tell everybody that the courses are not all very long, but they're usually hilly and you need to know how to play. You need to know how to hit shots and you need to have a short game.
"And they are beautiful courses," said the 41-year-old who has played Bethpage Black in high school matches and the U.S. Open.
Mattiace won't be on the Black for the Open next week. He still is trying to regain his game on the Nationwide Tour, six years after twin knee surgeries, so he didn't enter. "I figured even if I did qualify, I'd end up missing a Nationwide Tour event," he said. "If I had a great Open and finished eighth or 10th, that wouldn't change my life. My priority is to become exempt on the tour."
He will be in New York Monday for the City Parks Putting Challenge sponsored by Odyssey putters and benefiting the City Parks Foundation's Junior Golf program. Mattiace will compete at Trump Tower against amateurs.
The putting stroke that got him onto the PGA Tour was honed on courses such as Bethpage, where he and his two older brothers played for the Jericho High varsity (Len as an eighth-grader). "The land is tremendous, with rolling hills, trees, the way the bunkers are build into the course," said the man who recalls the pre-renovation days at the Black when a local rule said you could move rocks in bunkers.
Those are great memories for him, as are reflections of his family's membership at Mill River Country Club. "I remember the back nine being very hilly. I remember two very different nines, both in very good condition. It was just a great members' club," he said. "It was a great club for the family. I remember going to the pool as much as I remember the golf course."
He also loved playing at Nassau Country Club, where his uncle was a member, and the Garden City Golf Club, which Mattiace's father joined because he had less time to play and knew that he could get in 18 holes there quickly.
During winters, after the private clubs in Nassau had closed for the season, Mattiace and his brothers would drive east for 27 or 36 holes of public golf on a Saturday or Sunday.
"We played Colonie Hill, Pine Hills, Rock Hill, Swan Lake," he said. "Those, I remember. We loved it."
He only occasionally visits the Island, where he has about 50 relatives. But Long Island still is in him. "I'm still a big Yankee fan," he said. "I got my wife and our 11-year-old and 8-year-old all transformed into Yankee fans."