In his work as a travel rep and tour guide, helping holidaying customers to find the best bars, restaurants and fun activity, Matthew Jones would often be driving past golf courses but never gave them a thought. Golf never crossed his mind in those days.
And if Covid-19 hadn’t ripped the heart out of the tourism business in 2020, Matthew Jones – or Matt as he is known – may still be out there somewhere in Spain, Ibiza or elsewhere in the Mediterranean.
However, Matt’s adventures in sunny climes – albeit curtailed – and his new passion for golf, are certainly linked, even though he hit his first golf shots not on the Continent but in Rugby, England, during the pandemic.
Linked, because both boosted his feelings of positivity, an impressive mindset even after the knock-backs experienced in life.
As a person of short stature, Matt had done well to navigate all the potential pitfalls of school, only to be discouraged from pursuing his ambition of being an engineer because of his size, around health and safety worries, which may or may not have been valid at the time.
A friend encouraged him into the tourism profession and he thrived, even gaining further resilience and determination as he learned to deal with sometimes rude or arrogant tourists after they had had a lot of drinks. This challenging schooling, added to the support he had always received from family and friends, all helped to create the confident 29-year-old we meet today.
Matt tells us: “Growing up, the way I was brought up was, ‘give it a go’. If I can’t do it, we obviously know why because there are going to be limitations. But I never went out thinking, ‘I can’t do this’. I would ‘one-hundred-per-cent it’ as we say.” Matt laughs as he says this.
“Even if I couldn’t do it, I’d still try. I would never let a problem get me down. I’ve got an older brother [Chris] and we would do everything together: played sports [but not golf], I’d hang around with his friends. They all looked after me and helped give me confidence.”
Even Matt’s go-for-it mindset would be sorely tested with the arrival of Covid-19 in early 2020, causing him to lose the job he was enjoying so much, returning to the town of Rugby in the Midlands and experiencing lockdown – which must have felt like the precise opposite of his outgoing life in Spain. Looking for work, Matt stepped up to be a tester at his local NHS Covid testing centre. His shift pattern meant he had chunks of time for leisure, and with the Covid restrictions facing society at the time, golf was the first sport to re-open for business again.
“With my shifts of four days on and four off, I just picked up some golf clubs and went to the range, and then just fell in love with it.”
Matt had started by buying some cheap kids’ clubs at a big sports retail outlet, Sports Direct. Then he says he was lucky to meet PGA professional coach Zoe North who gave him the valuable formative lessons. Zoe then put Matt on to David Stoker, an expert club fitter who got him sorted with PING clubs; he remains a loyalist to the brand, with all 14 clubs in the bag bearing the name of the famous manufacturer.
Matt said: “Zoe was fantastic, giving me the lessons and I picked up a lot from this, I saw a massive improvement. I thought, let’s go and do this properly and I’ve been practising hard ever since.
“I had struggled with sports in general over the years with my condition. I can’t go and play rugby and I’ve struggled to play football, some sports are just not good for someone with dwarfism. Whereas golf, you’ve got your golf handicap there to help you fit in with everyone. This makes the game competitive even though I’m playing against someone that’s twice or three times the size of me and hits it much further. We can still have a round together and be competitive. This keeps me going, driving me forwards. The determination to get that bit better…”
Fast forward three years from those first shots and Matt jokes that if he is not sleeping or at work you will find him out on the golf course. He loves the physical exercise and the feeling of wellbeing it gives him and now loves the competition aspect, leading up to his first EDGA tournament in June, 2023, The PING Open, in Gainsborough, England.
“I love the act of playing; you’re playing against yourself in many ways all the time. With golf, some days are good and some days are not so good. When you have a good day, you know that the golf’s there in your locker. And when I come home, the next thing I want to do is simply to go out again. I’ve set that benchmark, I then want to progress and I want to beat it.
“When I was at the EDGA event, I hit my personal best long drive and now I’ve done this I’m working even harder. Every day is about learning, trying to improve yourself and to be the best you can be.”
Matt’s family discovered EDGA, looking into the many international competitions staged or endorsed by the organisation that is helping so many golfers with a disability to thrive, through sampling (beginners just trying golf), participating (learning and playing) and competing in the game.
At The PING Open at Thonock Park, looking out on the 6,484-yard Karsten Lakes course, Matt said the size of a course doesn’t really faze him. Distance is a factor because of his size, but he is getting steadily longer in his shots and he is pleased with his accuracy off the tee.
He thanked his great friend Toby Scott, who was caddying for him during the tournament, who has encouraged him to keep achieving. But there is certainly a confidence in Matt which must be a credit to those who raised him. Dad Mark, a retired project manager, Mum Amanda, a former dental nurse, and his older brother Chris, have clearly been superb in giving him self-belief but also the space to find his own identity.
“I was never treated differently for the fact that I’ve got short stature. I was just Matthew to everyone. A lot of my mates were also the same with that. I was one of the boys, sometimes something would happen and not go so well, but it never got me down. I just got on with it. You’ve got to live with it, so why not just deal with it? I’m probably the person that I am now because of the support of everyone.”
While a travel rep out of season, Matt and friends fed their travel bug, including trips to Southeast Asia, and driving the Pacific Coast Highway in the United States.
This bedrock of this good work experience finally paid off recently for Matt when he secured a job with a German water engineering company based in Rugby, which analyses, monitors and controls water supplies for businesses. He has found an engineering related field after all.
Choosing friends well has also continued, and Matt has found plenty as a member at Rugby Golf Club.
“A hundred per cent. Rugby Golf Club itself has got a very good social side to it, which again is giving me confidence. After a round of golf I can sit in the clubhouse and have a chat with all the guys and girls. When you get to meet people, then they start inviting you out to play golf with them. So I get to play with a great mix of people which is brilliant.”
Matt remembers his first ever full round at Cold Ashby GC, where his Dad gave him a shot a hole, and Mr Competitive Dad still comfortably won. How the tables have turned, with Matt now leading the way for the father and son combo. Matt is also a member of a well-run local golf society called the Blue Lion, where they get to play some great courses including The Belfry, and The Forest of Arden.
We first watched Matt swing the club at PING’s custom fitting facility at Gainsborough, during The PING Open, where 16 EDGA players with disability took advantage of complimentary club-fitting sessions thanks to expert support from PING technicians. Matt worked with PING technician Paul Rymer and both men were pleased with the improvement in Matt’s shot dispersion during their session.
Matt has a good swing and at the time he was playing off a 22 handicap, which after winning the Stableford category of The PING Open has come down to 19.5.
It was a well deserved victory and much appreciated, evidenced by the applause from all the players when he received his trophy. In his first tournament, Matt was now part of the EDGA group which is known for its supportive and social side.
While he will tell you he practises as hard as anyone, along with his first coach Zoe, he wishes to thank Head Professional at Rugby Golf Club, David Quinn, the members at Rugby GC and also PING, who have all supported him so well.
Matt says it doesn’t really matter how you play, he is convinced that the benefits of the game health-wise are excellent for anyone with a disability, if they get started.
“I am sure some people look at golf and think, right, I’m not too sure about that. But I would urge more people to just give it a go. I started with just a kids’ set on the driving range. You would be surprised how good it feels just to be out in the fresh air, focusing on a little white ball; it silences everything else out that’s going on in the world. I’d say to anyone with a disability reading this, if you can find a way to give it a go, you will enjoy the game, you will get to meet new people and it will open up a whole new world for you.”
With Matt’s game improving and his job going well, thoughts inevitably turn to his future golf. He is eager to play more EDGA tournaments when he can take time off from work. Matt has played Le Golf National in Paris and The Brabazon at The Belfry and targets other Ryder Cup venues, but he is perfectly placed to try his golf in regions he already knows, like Spain, USA and Thailand. Wherever he chooses to play, he will have a friend from his tourism days living nearby to meet up with for a beer. Meanwhile, he will be spreading the word internationally about just how inclusive a sport golf can be.
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