Matt Every of Daytona Beach, Fla., seemed destined to win the International Junior Masters from the time he set foot on East Aurora Country Club in 1998. He took an immediate liking to the course. He medaled his first time here, as a 13-year-old. And he's continued to elevate his game, rising to 30th in the American Junior Golf Association national rankings.
All Every had to conquer was his reputation as an unaccomplished match player, which has made him the object of some good-natured kidding among his friends.
"All my buddies are like, 'Matt's a good player but he can't play match play,' " Every said. "I guess I overcame that his week."
Every maintained a stoic demeanor right until the end of his championship match with Santiago Caicedo of Colombia on Friday afternoon. But after he dropped a 3-foot birdie putt on No. 16 to win, 3 and 2, the meaning of this victory was immediately evident. He tossed his golf hat to the ground, dropped his putter, raised his hands and looked to the sky. He had been among the favorites to win here for the last four years. Finally, he was the lone survivor.
"It's such a relief," Every said, "Especially since I can't come back."
Every's game was near top form for his return to East Aurora. He finished sixth in the Bubba Conlee, a national event held in Memphis. He placed third at the MCI Worldcom held at Hilton Head. He was 10th in an AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) event held at Furman University in South Carolina.
His AJGA ranking should rise with this victory, and the timing is ideal. Every will be entering his senior year of high school but college coaches can start recruiting him as of July 1. He's already received letters expressing interest from the likes of Georgia, Arizona and Arizona State. But his preference is to remain in state, with his top choices being Florida, the national champion, and Northern Florida, which practices at TPC Sawgrass.
Every has been a solid ball-striker since his early teens. Granted, he hits it farther now, given that he's sprouted from 5-foot-4 to about 5-10. But the biggest difference in his game is in the way he thinks his away around the course.
"I know my limits," Every said. "I know what I can do and what I can't. Back then, I tried to force shots.
"My father (Kelly) isn't here but he would have been proud of me this week. He preaches course management. He says that whoever makes the least mistakes is going to win. I hit a lot of 2-irons off tees, and 3-woods. I managed myself a little better."
Every, who shot 1-under for the 16 holes, never trailed Caicedo, this year's medalist. He won the first hole with a par, No. 6 with a par and No. 7, a 533-yard par-5, with a birdie. He went 4-up with a birdie at No. 12, another par-5, before Caicedo won consecutive holes to trim the advantage to two. A cheer went up from the Colombian contingent when Caicedo made a delicate up-and-down on the par-3 15th to keep Every from going dormie (three holes up with three to play).
"I heard that cheer and I was thinking, 'I'm still 2-up, you're not going to shake me,' " Every said. "Yeah, the nerves were there but if you're not nervous then you don't care. I wanted to keep the same pace and stay calm."
Every reached the final with a 3-2 victory over 15-year-old Billy Hanes, an East Aurora member heading into his sophomore year at St. Francis. For Every, it was like looking two years into the past. He remembers being a 15-year-old with a game on the verge of becoming national caiber.
"I thought about winning once I beat Billy this morning -- and he's going to be so good," Every said. "He was probably my second-toughest match compared to trying to finish this one off."
Caicedo advanced by routing fellow Colombian Julian Colmenares, 4 and 3, in the other semifinal.
Local golfers had one of their best IJM showings in years. Four advanced to the round of 16: Hanes, Matt Thomas and Jeremy Wabick of Orchard Park, and Jay Lindell of Lakewood. Wabick, a 16-year-old sophomore, advanced to the quarterfinals before being ousted by Caicedo.
Raman Luther, another East Aurora member, won the gold flight by defeating Benjamin Noel of Quebec, 2 and 1. Luther plays for Nichols School.