Beginners, low handicappers seeking an edge and professionals all benefit from the insights of The Downs Golf Practice Facility professional, who takes prestigious honor for the second time.
Matt Mitchell is excited about helping golfers who are eager to improve. But his favorite students are those just starting to develop an appreciation for the sport.
“I teach golfers from beginners to tour professionals, but the beginners are probably more fun because they have a lot more learning to do,” said Mitchell, who operates the Matt Mitchell Golf Institute at The Downs Golf Practice Facility at Tampa Bay Downs.
“You take somebody who has never put their hands on a club and never seen it fly through the air, and all of a sudden it’s up there, that’s a pretty good feeling. I still feel the same way when I hit it good,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell’s skill at teaching beginners the basics and fine-tuning the swings of top players has helped raise the profile of The Downs Golf Practice Facility since its opening in 2003.
Matt Mitchell of The Downs Golf Practice Facility imparts swing wisdom to student Wen Smith
His contributions to the sport and its growth have been recognized by the North Florida Section of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America, which will honor the 60-year-old Palm Harbor, Fla., resident as its Teacher of the Year on May 23 at ChampionsGate in Orlando.
The North Florida Section is comprised of more than 1,500 teaching professionals. Mitchell, who previously earned the honor in 2012, was the section’s West Central Chapter winner, defeating winners from the Northern, East Central and Southwest chapters.
Mitchell is now eligible for the PGA of America’s National Teacher of the Year honor.
“I won’t say I was speechless, but I was happily shocked when I heard about it because I didn’t know I had been nominated,” Mitchell said. “It isn’t something you seek out. Our job as golf professionals is to grow the game and help people play better – not just a particular group of people, but anyone who wants to get better.
“It is especially meaningful because it says that my peers, the members of the selection committee, think I’ve done a good job. My goal is to get the best out of people on the course. I love golf, and I want people to have fun playing.”
Mitchell was nominated for the award by Jon Johnson, the Manager of The Downs Golf Practice Facility. Johnson compiled a detailed record of Mitchell’s efforts, which include teaching more than 1,800 individual students at The Downs Golf Practice Facility and giving more than 13,000 lessons over the last 15 years (an average of about 5.25 a day).
“The award is very well-deserved. Matt is a great teacher and an outstanding communicator, and he’s a friend to his students,” Johnson said. “He’s like a good batting coach or pitching coach in baseball – nobody leaves Matt saying they didn’t learn anything.”
Perhaps Mitchell’s best-known student is LPGA Tour star Brittany Lincicome of Seminole, Fla., the 2005 Rookie of the Year and a winner of eight LPGA events, including two major tournaments: the 2015 ANA Inspiration and the 2009 Kraft Nabisco Championship (the ANA Inspiration’s previous name).
“I taught Brittany for a decade, but not for the last two-and-a-half years. She kind of figured it out on her own,” Mitchell said. “But players get in a rut and ask ‘What did we used to do?’ So I suspect I’ll be helping her again.”
Mitchell currently teaches brothers MJ Maguire and Jack Maguire, both aspiring young professionals. MJ competes on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, while Jack is playing on the Web.com Tour, a notch below PGA Tour status.
A Florida State University product, Jack has made the cut at two of the last three U.S. Opens, finishing 58th in 2015 and 42nd in 2017. “I’ve been teaching him since he was 11, and as they get older you try to teach them to teach themselves,” Mitchell said.
“It’s not like a team sport – when something goes wrong on the course, I’m not sitting on their shoulder barking orders at them,” Mitchell explained. “You have to have given them the ability to fix themselves. You don’t quite make yourself obsolete, but when they get to the point where they need you less and are self-sufficient, you’ve done your job correctly.”
Mitchell also teaches LPGA Tour rookie A.J. Newell, a University of Tennessee product.
Mitchell and his wife, Kristina, have two children: Jacob, 15, who plays some golf but is devoted to soccer, and Amanda, 13, a track athlete. “I’m not a pusher,” Mitchell said, smiling. “As Jacob says, ‘I love soccer and I like golf.’ ”
If Jacob decides to spend more time on the course, he will know where to turn for both guidance and example. In addition to his status as an instructor, Mitchell is a past multiple West Central Chapter playing champion and North Florida PGA Section senior champ and has played in the PGA Professional Championship and Senior PGA Professional Championship.
Mitchell leaves no stone unturned in his quest to bring out the best in his students.
“I’m a big fundamentalist,” he said. “I take what I think are the important fundamentals of golf and try to apply them to what a student can do, based on their physical abilities, any limitations they may have and the amount of time they can put in.
“As long as you have a student’s best interests at heart, you can figure out what they need and help build them a program. That is the real science and art of golf – to deliver the steps they need to improve and make sure they graduate through each step.”
For details or to arrange a lesson, visit www.matt-mitchell.com on the Internet or call (813) 854-4946.