Matt Chiasson had a decision to make. The 18-year-old Galt Collegiate student could have taken the safe route and mirror this past summer’s golf schedule to that of 2011, or sacrifice some wins in lower level tournaments to face tougher competition in high-profile events.
With a U.S. college scholarship on his mind, he chose the road less travelled. What he gave up at the top of the leaderboard paid off in dividends with a full scholarship to Ashford University in Iowa, a Division I National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) school.
“Ashford just stood out to me the most,” said Chiasson, who was wooed by 15 other schools after putting his profile on the University Prospects website.
“They were also the first school to contact me.”
That’s not to say Chiasson made a rash decision, as he waited until after his performance this summer before ramped up his desire to go south of the border. His resume is impressive, qualifying for the Toronto Star Men’s Amateur and making it through the first cut into the tournament to automatically qualify for 2013, a tie for first at the Ontario Junior Match Play qualifier and a top 16 finish in the match play championship – losing on the 20th hole – and a tie for fifth in the CN Future Links tournament to qualify for the Canadian Junior Championship. At the national tournament, he tied for 76th with a score of 156, missing the cut by one stroke.
At the Greens and Dreams tournament, Chiasson improved on his tie for 13th in 2011 with a tie for fourth last year.
His finishes bumped him into the top 50 national junior boys on the Golf Canada Order of Merit at 49th.
Locally, Chiasson cut down on his participation on the Ian Leggatt Junior Tour and Maple Leaf Junior Tour, but still managed two wins and a tie for third on the Leggatt loop, and five top four finishes on the Maple Leaf circuit, including a win. At the MJT National Championship in Arizona, he tied for fifth, but came out of the year with a MJT Cleveland Golf Scholarship.
He rounded out the season with a tie for second at WCSSAA and a tie for 11th at CWOSSA, where he faced most of his Whistle Bear Junior Performance team squadmates. He was also fourth in the Whistle Bear Men’s Club Championship.
“I had three wins this year, so it wasn’t as many, but I learned to play in the bigger competitions where there’s more pressure,” Chiasson said.
“That’s where all the coaches will look, because that’s where the best players are.”
And that’s what Ashford head coach Josh Heiple saw when he found Chiasson’s profile.
“Matt is an exceptional player with a great deal of tournament experience,” Heiple said in a press release.
“I expect an immediate impact on the course as we continue to move our program forward here at Ashford. His coach, Dave Smallwood, is one of the top golf instructors in Canada, and I have no doubt that Matt is prepared to take on the rigors of college golf.”
In fact, Smallwood was named Ontario PGA Teacher of the Year in the fall. Chiasson said his work with his Golf Performance Team coaches and his first coach, Dave Hollinger, the University of Waterloo men’s head golf coach, moulded him into the player he is today.
“Dave (Smallwood) and Mike (Skimson) have definitely prepared me over the last couple of years. Whistle Bear has been like a second home to me. They helped me so much.”
Chiasson will have to make sure he’s ready when he heads to Iowa in August to start the team’s pre-school schedule, as the Ashford Saints are ranked 16th in the Golf World/Nike Golf NAIA Coaches’ Poll and 19th in the NAIA Men’s Golf Coaches’ poll.
It’s the first time the school has been able to crack the top 25 in the coaches’ poll.
“Josh is definitely bringing the team in the right direction,” Chiasson said.
But a winning team isn’t the only thing that lured him to Ashford, which has the majority of its students enrolled online and only about 1,000 on campus.
“I loved everything about the school,” Chiasson said.
“It’s a small school so I’ll get more time with the teachers. There’s only about 20 to 30 kids in each class, so that’ll work to my advantage. It was a great offer so I said this is where I want to go.”
Chiasson noted that education was important part of his decision, as he wants to become a phys-ed teacher like his dad, Steve.
“I guess I’ll follow in his footsteps.”
Does that mean his dad is a golfer, too?
“No, he was a fisherman.”