VISTA, Calif. – It seems everybody at Nucci's Italian Cafe knows Steve Mata. He lives down the street. He comes here all the time.
Now might be a time for celebration, but Mata is subdued, thoughtful. He wonders about the future.
For a pricetag of $57,242.40, Mata just sold a set of 11 Titleist irons and wedges that once belonged to Tiger Woods. Mata says they were used by Woods to win the Tiger Slam in 2000 and 2001. Woods says otherwise, but a few touring pros have supported Mata's story.
Announcement of the sale, coming on Sept. 12 from Green Jacket Auctions, caught many observers by surprise. Mata was asking $250,000. It was widely assumed he would hold out for a six-figure bid (the name of the successful bidder was not released).
"It's time to put this behind me and move on," Mata said. "I need to find a job. I'm dedicated to golf. I'm a great employee. I know what I'm doing. I work hard."
Two years ago Mata lost his job as Titleist's director of tour operations. He and two other men were accused of inappropriate speech in the presence of a woman. Mata admitted he laughed at off-color jokes but insisted he personally did not make vulgar wisecracks or use any offensive language. He added the woman was not visible to the three men. They didn't know she was there.
Mata worked more than 20 years in the golf industry in nearby Carlsbad, the unofficial capital of American golf club manufacturing. He started out with TaylorMade, then went with Titleist.
He was not an import. He grew up here. His father, Tony, was the principal building inspector for the city of Carlsbad and became a beloved figure often called "Mr. Carlsbad" by local residents.
"My father taught me to be honest and never to lie," Mata said. "The truth is that those irons were used by Tiger when he won the Slam."
After the irons and wedges went on sale, Woods claimed he used two different sets during the Slam, adding both sets were at his residence. Mata and touring pro Greg Kraft stated flatly that Woods gave the clubs, used in the Slam, to Mata as a gift. This occurred in 2001 after Mata delivered a new set of Titleist clubs to Woods.
A short time later in 2002, Woods switched to Nike clubs.
"You know, this has taken a toll," Mata said. "My integrity is everything to me. To have that questioned in any way is not easy. I still want to be part of the golf industry. I know golf. I've been around the game and around Carlsbad my whole life."