Matti Schmid is Longshot Contender at 2024 Players Championship

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan hands Matti Schmid of Germany a set of Tiffany & Co. cuff links presented as a gift during the First Timers Press Conference prior to THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 13, 2024 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox via Getty Images)

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida — It’s an unwritten golf tradition that any self-respecting major championship needs an unknown long-shot player to contend during the first two rounds.

You know, a “Tin Cup” type underdog like Jean van de Velde in the Open Championship at Carnoustie or Jack Fleck in the U.S. Open at Olympic Club.

This week’s Players Championship is golf’s next best thing to a major and that tradition lives. Meet Matti Schmid, ranked 140th in the world. He’s from Germany, he stacked a pair of 68s together despite suffering a double bogey at the 18th hole Friday, a day after providing some added entertainment when he performed The Saw on his final green.

The Saw is an iconic 1990s move in German soccer lore, the equivalent of an American football touchdown. Stefan Kuntz, Germany’s greatest striker, scored on a penalty kick to beat arch-nemesis England in the 1996 Euro Cup semifinal and Kuntz celebrated the legendary moment by holding up a bended leg and pretending to saw back and forth on it.

Why would the somewhat reserved Schmid do that after the first round? Because he lost a darts bet. Who said Germans are stoic, humorless, monotonal machines? Not Floriana Bauer, the gregarious Sky Sport Germany golf host who set up the darts match.

“Ahh, I am not a typical German, to be honest,” Bauer said with a laugh. “We can also be fun.”

Matti Schmid plays his second shot on the 18th hole during the second round of THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 15, 2024 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by David Cannon via Getty Images)

Bauer brought the fun with him from Germany. He packed a dart board and darts in his luggage on the trans-Atlantic flight. The darts game was set up at the Tour Performance Center here at TPC Sawgrass. The board was jury-rigged to the wall with tape since no nails were available. Bauer took on Schmid and fellow German golfer Stephan Jaeger on Tuesday.

“So the bet was, if I lost, these guys had to give me three random words, nonsense words, that I would have to integrate into my live coverage and do it well enough so people wouldn’t wonder why I was saying ‘potato salad’ or something out of the blue that wouldn’t make sense,” Bauer said. “If I won, they had to give me a certain sort of cheer, no matter if they were six under par or six over. That’s a question of honor, you have to do it.”

Bauer won the match. Jaeger beat Schmid in a playoff to avoid having to do The Saw. At the 18th green, Schmid had a long birdie putt and, perhaps thinking about the bet, left his putt five feet short. He poured it in, then looked around the green, uncomfortably self-conscious.

“He came toward me, saw we were live on the air so Matti started sawing and pointing at me,” Bauer said. “After the round, he came to our broadcast set and did it again.”
Schmid’s version was less enthusiastic. “Yeah, I lost a darts challenge and we fist-bumped on the green, which I kind of hope the guys would have forgotten about the bet,” Schmid said. “But no, they were there to remind me.”

Ryder Cupper Sepp Straka was supposed to play darts with the group but missed the Tuesday match. He went one-on-one with Bauer Wednesday and Bauer won again. That mean Straka was required to do the John Travolta ‘Stayin’ Alive” dance when he finished Friday on the ninth green. Bauer made sure the PGA Tour camera crew was alerted and ready for it.

Matti Schmid lines up a putt on the fifth green during the second round of THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 15, 2024 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann via Getty Images)

“I set up these challenges all the time,” Bauer said. “Sepp and I went schnitzel cooking. We had a judge who tasted our two schnitzel versions and decided the winner I lost. I played Ping Pong against him at the Tour Championship last fall in Atlanta. I won the first set and had a massive lead, then he kicked my a–. I lose to these guys all the time so I thought I needed something else where I could be at eye level with these athletes. That was the start.”

Bauer admitted he’s not actually very good at darts, he just got lucky. Twice. The next challenge, he said, will be billiards.

It’s not about winning and losing, of course, it’s about camaraderie with countrymen and bonding and talking about being away from home, trading tips about Tour travel and other topics to take the players’ minds off the tournament they’re playing.

Schmid is an unknown in the U.S. but maybe isn’t quite the longshot he seems. He won the European Amateur twice in a row and was low amateur at the 2021 Open Championship. He earned his DP World Tour card in just six starts after turning pro. Schmid, 27, is a former University of Louisville star who recently moved to the Jacksonville area. He is coming off a 10th-place finish in the Puerto Rico Open. He missed six cuts in a row but before that was fourth in the Alfred Dunhill Cup, third in the Bermuda Championship and second in the Andalucia Masters.

“Matti is a lot younger than me so we never played golf together much growing up,” said Jaeger, 34, who gave Schmid a bro-handshake as they passed each other in the interview area Friday following their rounds. “I was already playing professional golf when he went to Louisville.”

Jaeger shot even par for 36 holes, eight behind Schmid and 14 behind U.S. Open champ Wyndham Clark. “Matti lost our darts playoff. Maybe I should have lost, maybe I would have played better. But Matti has been playing really good.”


Schmid had an exciting finish Friday. He reached the par-5 16th green in two with a 7-iron second shot and holed a 17-foot putt for eagle. He hit pitching wedge to six feet that par-3 17th hole and used his long-putter to make that birdie.

The 18th hole was where he ran into trouble. His tee shot veered right, his recovery shot clipped a branch and the gusting winds blew his approach shot over the back right part of the green. He chipped on and two-putted for a double bogey.

“My first 17 holes, the course was very playable,” Schmid said. “The greens were soft, there wasn’t much wind. But the last nine holes, the wind got up a bit. I think it’s going to be difficult over the weekend, for sure.”

Schmid has lived in an apartment near Ponte Vedra Beach for almost a year and had played the TPC Sawgrass course about 20 times. He was part of a media session Wednesday morning where players competing in their first Players—and there were 22 of them—chatted with the media. He said then that he first played the course when he and the Louisville golf team stopped by for a round. He remembered hitting a nice 9-iron shot to 15 feet on the infamous 17th green. Once, he said, he flew that green with a pitching wedge shot—“A shocker,” Schmid said, “but otherwise I’ve stayed dry there.”

The weekend looms large for him. His father, an uncle and his girlfriend are flying in from Germany for the final two rounds. It will be memorable for all of them. At least Schmid is familiar with the course but not with the crucible that is The Players Championship on the weekend.

“In the end, it’s about holing putts and being stable between the ears,” Bauer said. “Matti is an incredibly good player and he’s becoming mature.”

He’s a Cinderella story at the Players Championship… but not at darts.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980, following the tours to 125 men’s major championships, 14 Ryder Cups and one sweet roundtrip flight on the late Concorde. His work appeared, in order, in The Milwaukee Journal, Golf World magazine, Sports Illustrated and He is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America. His email gvansick at aol dot com.

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