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Len Mattiace breaks records for charity

Most golfers were still snug under the covers. Heck, even the turtles at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass were still asleep.

The dark blue sky was just beginning to barely lighten when Len Mattiace plunged a tee into the ground on the Stadium Course. Smack! A good 275 yards, perfectly positioned.

"I'll play that one," blurted his partner, First Coast News (Jacksonville) sports anchor Jeff Prosser.

So began an historic day in Mattiace's PGA Tour career, during which he set several career records.

Most shots struck. Most holes played. Most instruction given to a playing partner. Most attempts to find playing partner's ball. Most talkative playing partner.

Mattiace and Prosser, who both live near Sawgrass, were at it from first light to sundown in a golf marathon to raise money for The First Tee, a national organization that brings young people into golf and also teaches them life skills. The First Tee now has 125 facilities across the country.

On the first tee of the Stadium Course, Mattiace, the 35-year-old Wake Forest graduate who finished second in this year's Masters at Augusta National, turned to Prosser and made an admission.

"You know, on the 37th hole I'm in uncharted territory," he said. "Everything after that is a record for me. I've never played more than 36 holes in a day. But it's all good. It's all for charity."

Prosser, who as a golfer makes a really solid sportscaster, knew it was going to be even tougher for him, with Mattiace sitting in their golf cart while Prosser hit all those extra shots. "Man," he said to Mattiace, "all I know is, it's going to be fun for 36 holes. Then it's going to be a grind for me."

Sponsored by well-wishers on a per-hole basis, the two had completed more than 70 holes by midday. There is no truth to the rumor that early in the afternoon, some guy slipped in and put on Prosser's visor, pretending to be the TV star while Prosser got CPR. There's even less truth to the rumor that this imposter was fellow Ponte Vedra Beach resident Rocco Mediate.

No, Mattiace was stuck with the sweet -- strike that -- the swinging Prosser all day long, as the two battled the twin demons of fatigue and Prosser's sense of humor around the Stadium Course like two men possessed.

In addition to being one of the great guys on the PGA Tour, Mattiace is one of many players who gives back to his own community through his "Len's Friends Foundation."

Proving what a truly charitable guy Mattiace is, he had this to say after Prosser struck his first tee shot of the day: "Bingo. There's some power!"

The dynamic duo were going for more than 100 holes of golf. Mattiace has played 1,332 holes of golf all year as a full-time PGA Tour professional. And, judging from his game, Prosser had never played 170 holes of golf in his life.

Actually, Prosser, a University of Florida graduate, was a great sport. He loves to poke fun at himself on the golf course. And he plays pretty well. He won't be dueling Mike Weir mano-a-mano for the Masters title like Mattiace did, but he can play some golf. His sense of humor kept Mattiace and their followers laughing through a long, long day.

And hey, all kidding aside, these guys really did grind for The First Tee. There's no way this writer would have been out there that long, particularly in the mid-afternoon humidity.

After 82 holes, Mattiace came roaring up to the first tee of the Stadium Course to do it all again, only to find a cheering section that included PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem.

"Hey you guys, Jeff never did show up!" Mattiace quipped.

Then the Tour pro quickly teed up and blasted his drive. Imagine putting your VCR on fast forward to watch Mattiace at this year's Masters. That's what he looked like. And he hit a beauty.

The way Mattiace bounded around, you'd never know he'd been at it since the crack of dawn. Prosser showed up a moment later, looking a little worse for wear.

"Hey Jeff," Mattiace said, "I told them all that I've had 20 birdies, and you've had about 10 birdies."

Deadpanned Prosser: "And they didn't believe you, right?" Then the TV personality proceeded to drill one, despite the crowd around the tee. He was too tired to be nervous.

"Hey, I'm just glad I've been able to keep up to this guy," Prosser said.

Between the two of them, Mattiace and Prosser had more than $200 a hole in sponsorships and were about to ring up more than $50,000 on the day, after about 125 holes of golf each.

 

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