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Self-taught Cougar tops county

Matt Isel received little instruction from pros yet reached the state tourney for the third time.

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 1, 2002

CLEARWATER -- Matt Isel isn't a big name on the junior golf scene. He plays a Florida Junior Golf Association tournament here and there. And if he has a national ranking, he doesn't know.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "I just play golf. I'm not really into rankings. It's nice to be first, but I don't look for it."

Isel has found himself in that nice place of first often this season. He had the lowest average in the county at 36.1 and helped the Cougars to a 15-0 record, first in the PCAC.

In four years at Countryside, Isel made three trips to the state tournament. He said over time, he has seen his game change.

"Every year, I got better," he said. "At the beginning, I saw the better players. And as the years went by, I started being the better players."

Isel, who shot 71 as the region runner-up, finished seven shots behind the leader at state, tying for 18th. Self-taught, Isel's success is due mostly to himself.

He started playing around 7 or 8 on a driving range his father built and owned. A couple of pros here and there helped him with fundamentals, his grip, swing and stance. But for the most part, Isel has figured out golf on his own.

"He really hasn't had lessons," said Matt's father, Jeff. "It's just practicing, practicing, practicing. He had a talent that was hard to teach."

It's a sport that almost has been ingrained in him. Everyone in his family plays, including a large portion of his extended family.

Isel, who currently is visiting colleges exploring opportunities to play, said from early on, golf clicked for him.

In elementary school, he spent many hours practicing at Countryside Country Club. And he used to get up 90 minutes before school to watch the Golf Channel.

"Once you hit that perfect shot," he said, "you just keep coming back."

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