It’s times like these, on the precipice of an event so dramatic and captivating and transformative, that Matt Hansen is most leveled.
The 22-year-old is less than a week away from becoming a professional golfer, a career path that took its first steps 15 years ago when his father brought him to the driving range at their hometown Sea Pines Golf Resort.
Since then, the Morro Bay High graduate has kept on a steady trajectory both on and off the course to reach this major checkpoint.
“Throughout these last four years, it’s been a slow improvement,” said Hansen, whose four-year career at UC Davis culminated in a Big West Championship individual title and a top 70 world amateur ranking. “My ranking has been improving and my golf game has been improving. You don’t want to plateau too much or start going the opposite way, and thankfully I haven’t.”
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Hansen credits numerous factors for his ability to keep moving forward, including a stable family support system, a premier swing coach and a ball-striking consistency forged from countless hours of practice.
But perhaps the biggest reason why Hansen heads into the professional ranks more eager than nervous, he said, is a set of lifestyle and dietary changes that came out of necessity following a year of haziness and a trip to the emergency room.
“In February of my freshman year (of college), I came back from a tournament and felt sick for about a week,” he recalled. “I thought it was a cold, but it wasn’t.”
Hansen learned he had adrenal fatigue, which is not defined as a disease but is triggered by stressors that cause the adrenal glands to function below optimal levels and results in prolonged lapses of energy.
“I couldn’t focus,” Hansen said. “I had to withdraw from NCAA nationals my freshman year because I’d go through weeklong crashes where I’d be completely out of it.”
Hansen said during these crashes he would scarcely leave his dorm room and sleep as many as 16 hours a day. When he was awake, he said, his head was foggy and his memory was sporadic.
He began meeting with a nutritionist who helped make necessary lifestyle changes, including a gluten-free diet, supplements and a set sleep schedule. Hansen said his nickname used to be Willy Wonka because of an insatiable sweet tooth, but those days are behind him now.
“I would say it’s a blessing in disguise because I needed to change my diet,” Hansen said. “How my nutritionist describes it; I was like a glass almost completely full, and any stressors like not getting enough sleep or getting sick, I’d spill over and have a crash. Now my levels are like half a glass, so I’m at a good point right now.”
Don Parsons, Hansen’s swing coach who was named Top Teacher in California by Golf Digest, said his pupil’s newfound eating habits put him ahead of the curve in adjusting to life as a pro.
“Not too many guys out there are eating better than Matt,” he said.
Hansen and Parsons began working together in Hansen’s sophomore year of high school after he first took lessons at nearby Sea Pines in his native Los Osos.
Parsons admitted his first impression of Hansen was not promising.
“When he showed up, he was not a good ball striker at all — he was not a good player at all,” Parsons said. “If you said that day that he was going to be a two-time All-American, I’d have been shocked.”
But that’s exactly what Hansen became, highlighted by a senior year in which he broke the UC Davis career scoring average record (71.9) and single-season mark (70.57). He was named the university’s male athlete of the year before placing in the top 16 at the prestigious Western Amateur Championship.
“He didn’t have it when he showed up, but I didn’t make him hit the ball that way,” Parsons said. “It was within him, I just coaxed it out of him.”
Consistent ball striking and a growing feel for his putter and wedges are Hansen’s biggest on-course assets, Parsons said, while his middle irons and — most importantly — an aggressive approach are the areas in greatest need of improvement.
“He’s one of the only college guys I’ve ever seen that is overly cautious and risk adverse,” Parsons said. “Matt’s got the talent to pull tough shots off, and he doesn’t go for it sometimes. He’ll consistently be in the 69-70 range, which puts you right in the mix in college and top-level amateur, but in the pros, you need some 65s, 64s, 63s to win.”
Hansen plays in one final amateur event this weekend — the NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship at his all-time favorite course, Spyglass Hill at Pebble Beach — before making the official switch to the professional ranks Friday.
That’s the day his website will launch and he will sign his contract with Octagon, a global sports marketing and agency firm. He’s hoping a sponsorship deal with Nike, which he dealt with extensively in college, soon follows.
Hansen’s agent, Joel Kribel, was a former top-ranked amateur and three-time All-American at Stanford. Kribel reached the PGA Tour before chronic back problems derailed a once promising career.
Now he will be managing Hansen’s burgeoning professional pursuit, which begins in earnest at the Arizona Open on Aug. 21 in Scottsdale.
“There’ll be nerves,” Hansen admitted, “but how I’ve set myself up these past few years, it’s preparing my game to hopefully be a top professional. That’s how I’m going to look at it — just another golf tournament.”
From there, the paths are as numerous as they are endless. He hopes to quickly play his way into the Web.com qualifying school or else latch on to the Latin America or Canadian tours. The end goal is to become a regular on the PGA Tour and have a shot at the ultimate prize: The green jacket that follows a win at the Masters.
Every day in his golfing life has led to this, from the 90 he shot in nine holes as a 9-year-old at Cypress Ridge to the 30-foot birdie putt he drained to win a round of 16-clinching playoff at the Western.
True to form, he is not about to let the moment get too big for him.
“Golf, there’s always going to be highs and lows,” Hansen said. “It’s about surviving those plateaus and those lows, and being able to come out of them.”