Teenage golf talents come and go. The overwhelming majority don’t go on to become successful touring pros and many, particularly those who have taken up the game extremely young, burn out in their teens or not long after. If 18-year-old Matias Sanchez was to burn out, it probably would have happened already because his passion still burns as deep as ever.
“My parents used to say that when I was about two years old, I picked up a wooden spoon and started hitting things around the house and, from then on, they got me plastic sets and kind of got me into golf,” Sanchez said as he stood on the practice fairway at Royal Melbourne, where he’s a member along with Sandhurst. The teenager had just landed back in Australia from a three-week golf trip competing in the US.
“There hasn’t been a time where I’ve said, ‘I don’t like this’or ‘I want to give it away’. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always wanted to be a pro golfer. I always had other things going on, but that’s been the main focus for me since I was four years old up until right now.”
Sanchez didn’t play to his potential in the US but a small consolation was making his first hole-in-one during a practice round at his final event.
“I had four [aces] at pitch and putt when I was little but that was the first time.”
Sanchez missed cuts at the Western Junior Championship in Michigan and the prestigious Dogwood Invitational in Atlanta, Georgia, and was astounded by the field’s depth and a cut that fell at three under par.
“To have a cut that low was really cool,”Sanchez remarked. “To see what the fields are like around the world is a real good eye-opener. Usually you don’t get a cut that low at three under. I wasn’t really used to that kind of level. Just every day, you’ve got to try to get better and better to get to that level.”
“Western Junior, there was no Australians in that, so that was weird playing in a tournament with no Australians, that’s never happened. At The Dogwood, there was seven or eight guys and I knew them pretty well.”
Sanchez has been a member of Victoria’s junior state team the past two years and was part of the 2015 winning boys’team along with Ryan Ruffels and Cameron John. He was runner-up at this year’s Australian Boys’Amateur, finishing best-placed Australian behind winner Daniel Hillier from New Zealand, and made it to the final 16 at the Australian Amateur at Metropolitan in January.
“He’s still loving it, still improving, still progressing, still wanting to get what he can out of it,”says Golf Victoria high performance manager Ashley Marshall, who first met Matias when he was five years old at the inception of Stuart Appleby Junior Golf in 2004.
Sanchez’s dad, Arnaldo, and mum, Fanny, migrated to Australia from Chile in 1992.
Growing up in Noble Park, Sanchez began developing his game at the Australian Pitch & Putt in Waverley, where Golf Victoria regularly held an under 12 competition, and he routinely beat children much older, winning nine times between the age of 9 and 11.
“He’s a bit humble when it comes to that because he won it so many times that he decided that he’d stop playing it and let someone else win,”Marshall said. “I think that said a lot about Matias and what his friends in junior golf meant to him.”
Fanny has documented a large chunk of her son’s junior career in two encyclopaedia-sized scrapbooks with photos, articles and descriptions of his victories from 2006 to 2010. She estimated that Matias had won more than 150 club, school and other junior competitions by the age of 11.
In 2007, an eight-year-old Sanchez was invited to play in the pro-am at the Victorian Open at Woodlands and was paired with veteran pro Peter Fowler.
Television and print media – including A Current Affair, Ten Eyewitness News and theHerald Sun – were on the course following Sanchez, who cut a small figure even for his age but was brimming with talent.
“[He’s] got a great swing and he’s got all the mannerisms and he’s got all the shots,”Fowler said of Sanchez after their round. The young star even got to present the winner’s trophy to 2007 Victorian Open champion, Western Australian Kim Felton.
Not long after, Sanchez became the youngest ever member at both Woodlands and Sandhurst, joining the clubs at the age of eight and nine respectively. “I think they called it a sub-junior membership [at Woodlands] and I couldn’t really play on Saturdays,”he said.
A quick flick through his mum’s in-depth notebooks reveals another photo of Sanchez from the pro-am at the 2009 Victorian Open at Spring Valley, playing in the same group as a 12-year-old Su Oh, but there were no television cameras this time, missing the chance to capture a future Olympian in action.
Sanchez has been a mainstay in Golf Victoria pennant from when he won his first colts match for Sandhurst aged 10 until this year’s men’s Division 1 final when he prevailed amid Royal Melbourne's loss to Metropolitan.
Now in Year 12 at Flinders College in Carrum Downs, Sanchez remains short in stature and has built a game more reliant on precision that power. He joined Royal Melbourne in early 2014 and has won the past two club championships, beating senior state team member Will Heffernan to this year’s title, and is coached by Tim Wendel at Waverley Golf Club.
“There’s not too much going on with golf coming up,”Sanchez said. “I guess just finishing Year 12 is the main priority. After that, I’ve got quite a big summer of golf, here at [Australian] Master of the Amateurs, the Australian Amateur down here in Melbourne as well. They’re the two big tournaments leading up after school.”
“I’m thinking of going to pre-qualify for the Australian Open in November, it’s just kind of managing if any exams fall on those dates.”
Sanchez is on track for selection in Victoria’s 2017 senior state team and is eyeing a scholarship at the Victorian Institute of Sport.
“I’m hoping to get into the VIS next year, that’s one of the goals of mine; develop my golf with them. I think definitely the gym training [would] help me a lot, just to get stronger and bigger and just to last the ongoing weeks away from home, and if I’m going to do that, I’m going to have a busy gym schedule.”
Marshall said Sanchez’s transition from high school to a life dedicated to golf will be the most important stage of his golf career.
“We see a lot of juniors coming through who have promise and talent and are good at their age, but once all of the juniors have gone through their growth spurt and they’re starting to get into adulthood, that’s a really important time for them. And this is the age where you’ve really got to start to shine, show what you’ve really got because, if you’re considering it as a profession, as a career, you really have to start making inroads.”