If you ask his teammates or his coach, the unquestioned leader of the University of South Dakota men’s golf team is Sam Matthew.
They will also tell you he leads by example, not words. His coach calls him quiet and composed. Teammates say he’s kind and let’s others talk over him.
That’s just the way Matthew likes it.
“I am the captain of the team, but I wouldn’t say I’m the most vocal person out there,” Matthew said. “I try to lead by example and try to show the guys what I think the program should be and how you should be individually.”
A junior from Roseville, Minn., Matthew has claimed three Summit League Golfer of the Week awards, carded his best finish at a tournament as a Coyote and is leading his team in a season where expectations are high.
The Coyotes finished second at the Summit League Championship last season, but that was with Matthew being the only sophomore on the team.
The rest of the team was composed of first-years.
Matthew said the team has some lofty goals for this season.
“We didn’t have a lot of expectations, but after finishing second at conference and improving from eighth the year before, this year we expect to win it,” he said. “That’s our main goal.”
Matthew had to take a winding road to arrive at this point of high expectations and conference success.
Matthew began his college career at North Dakota, but after the coach who recruited him resigned weeks before he arrived on campus, Matthew said his time at North Dakota wasn’t what he expected it to be.
“The golf program here was just a little more serious than there,” teammate Miles Death said. “Not to knock them, but they were threatening to lose their golf team for awhile, so that’s why he made the move.”
Matthew transferred to USD, a place where he found guys he knew from competition back home in Minnesota.
“Being able to have that support group and having friends where you don’t have to start over and make new friends really did help,” he said. “We’re all best friends — all eight of us. That really transfers over to the golf course as well. It really helps to be out there playing with five of your great friends.”
On top of finding a comfortable situation, head coach Nick Hovden said from a coach’s perspective, there’s not a better kid to have leading the team than Matthew.
“Sam’s obviously had a lot of success this season,” Hovden said. “I’d definitely have to credit that to his work ethic — the time he puts in when we’re outside practicing and when we’re cooped up in the DakotaDome. He finds time to hit extra balls even between classes.”
Death reiterated his coach’s words, saying it’s the extra work Matthew puts in that’s setting him apart.
“He’s really driven,” Death said. “He goes in for extra workouts all the time – a lot more than all of us.”
It’s that kind of precedent Matthew sets that Hovden said will lead his team, as well as Matthew, to success this season and into the future.
“(Matthew’s) a kid I just don’t have to worry about,” Hovden said. “I know no matter what he’s going to grind it out. He’s someone you don’t have to worry about, because he’s not going to let anything get out of hand. He’s a kid we can count on tournament-in, tournament-out.”
Right now, Matthew said, he just wants to focus on a conference title: team and individual.
“We’ll have to play smarter than last year,” he said. “I know that last day really hurt us last year. We had some tough holes, but if we play our game and play a little smarter, we’ll have a great shot.”