VIDEO: Diamond in the rough


Freshman golfer Matt Vanderbeek shines at Webster

Webster University freshman Matt Vanderbeek was at a crossroads. As he prepared to begin his freshman year at Churchill County High School in Fallon, Nev., Vanderbeek had to decide which sport to continue playing at the high-school level: golf or baseball?

Vanderbeek had played both sports for eight years. But both golf and baseball were spring sports at Churchill County, so Vanderbeek had to give one up. Baseball got the boot.

“It was a tough decision to drop baseball, but I knew golf was what I wanted to do because baseball is too team-oriented,” Vanderbeek said. “For me at least, I don’t like relying on other people more. Golf is more an individual sport. It can be a team sport, but it’s more individual.”

Vanderbeek seems to have made the right choice. To cap off his senior year of high school, Vanderbeek won the individual portion of the Nevada 3A state golf tournament by 10 strokes.

“It was an awesome feeling,” Vanderbeek said. “I couldn’t have done it any better. You could write a better story for it in a fiction, but for actual life and living it, I think that was the best way to end high school.”

Despite his impressive performance at the state tournament, only a handful of colleges were interested in Vanderbeek’s golfing services. Vanderbeek attended a golf combine in Las Vegas, and that’s where he met Webster coach Andrew Belsky, who was well aware of Vanderbeek’s potential.

Matt Vanderbeek
Webster University freshman Matt Vanderbeek drains a putt during a fall practice round at Sunset Country Club, the golf team’s home course. Photo by Victoria Caswell.

“I just saw a guy I thought would be a nice, consistent player who would help us out and was also somebody who had kind of slipped through the cracks,” Belsky said. “There are always guys out there that maybe haven’t done a whole lot as a junior golfer or who are from areas where they don’t get noticed and are available.”

Once Belsky returned from the recruiting combine, he handwrote a letter to Vanderbeek. This gesture was one of the reasons Vanderbeek took a look at coming to Webster.

“He wrote me a letter and sent it through the mail,” Vanderbeek said. “I opened it up and saw a handwritten letter and thought that was really nice. So I decided to start looking into Webster and start talking with him. (We) started talking money and all that other stuff, and then I decided to come here.”

Belsky said that when he’s recruiting, he identifies about 40 players who would be good fits for the Webster golf program. Belsky sends handwritten letters to all of the prospective golfers, which he feels is an advantageous recruiting tactic.

“Sending out formal letters, it’s very impersonal,” Belsky said. “But when they receive something you’ve actually sat down and spent five or 10 minutes writing to them, it shows them you’re trying to connect with them as a person. That even goes so far as to writing out the address on the envelope as well. We make sure everything is handwritten, so that they can tell it’s not just a mass mailing.”

Vanderbeek visited Webster in January 2011 and liked what he saw. Even though he had lived in Nevada nearly his entire life, Vanderbeek called his transition to Webster “really easy.”

Matt Vanderbeek was one of the Gorloks’ top scorers in several of the team’s fall tournaments. He helped Webster win the Anderson Fall Invitational and finish second in the Wisconsin Lutheran Invitational and the Big Blue Fall Classic.

Matt Vanderbeek said he’s loved his time in college so far.

“It’s invaluable — you can’t put a price on your experiences, and this is a great experience,” Matt Vanderbeek said. “It’s taught me a lot about everything — college golf, school, classes. I met a couple good friends, all that good stuff.”

Matt Vanderbeek is a mathematics major who plans on doing the 3-2 dual-degree engineering program. As a result, he will spend three years taking general math classes and engineering classes at Webster and then two years of classes at Washington University. He will still be eligible to play four years of golf for the Gorloks.

For the Vanderbeeks, both golf and engineering run in the family. Matt Vanderbeek said his mother, Sandy Vanderbeek, knows the game of golf well and was the one who pushed her son to pursue the sport. Matt Vanderbeek’s sister, Rachel Vanderbeek, is an avid golfer who is majoring in civil engineering at Oregon State University.

But it’s Michael Vanderbeek, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of New Mexico and works for the Navy Department at their premier aviation training base in Nevada, who Matt Vanderbeek most closely mirrors. Like his father, Matt Vanderbeek would like to work in the mechanical engineering field. Playing golf will remain a part of Matt Vanderbeek’s future, too.

“I want to pursue golf — I really like golf,” Matt Vanderbeek said. “And if I don’t do golf as a profession, I will continue playing golf. Engineering will definitely be in the picture. It’s what I’m shooting for, it’s what I like to do, it’s how I think.”

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