Light and Sound Matt Aylward No. 24

Light & Sound

From professional dancer to up-and-coming golf lensman: a snapshot of Matt Aylward’s second act

Matt Aylward stood on the 12th tee box at Augusta National Golf Club and cried. “Like a baby,” he says. He had been hired as one of the club’s staff photographers for the 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the Masters. He had never been to the course before, yet somehow his first assignment was to get morning beauty shots of some of the most revered ground in the game.

“It was early, and I was the only one there,” he says. “Mist was coming off Rae’s Creek, and the clouds were perfect. It was surreal.”

Aylward is not the first person to have a religious experience at Amen Corner. But he is the only one on the planet who can accurately compare it to performing in front of millions with Justin Timberlake.

His decidedly nontraditional route to Augusta came via the dance studios of Los Angeles and stages from the Super Bowl to the Academy Awards. He spent the 2010s as a professional dancer, several of those years on tour with Timberlake.

“I know some people say be careful about what you dream, but dancing with J.T. was always it for me,” Aylward says. “I put all my eggs in that basket and went for it.”

He grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and quickly found that traditional education wasn’t for him. His parents enrolled him in an arts-based school, and one of its electives was dance, which he wanted “absolutely nothing” to do with. But the school’s policy was that every student had to try each of the electives for at least two weeks. By the end of the first week, Aylward was hooked. He had played “all the sports” growing up, but quit them to focus on dance. During high school, he was dancing seven days a week in a competitive group.

Light and Sound Matt Aylward No. 24
Photo: Faith-Ann Young

“I’m not good at writing or English,” he says with a laugh, “but dance was a language I could speak. I’m a visual learner. Dancing is just matching shapes with your body, and that made sense to me.”

He eschewed college to move to LA and chase his very specific dream. Golf was integral to him achieving it. He’d grown up around the game, and he brought his clubs with him out West. Once there, he found the studio where Timberlake’s choreographer worked and launched his plan to “just always be around and stand out.” That choreographer liked to play the par-3 course at what is now Weddington Golf & Tennis. Aylward kept his clubs in his trunk and soon began joining him.

In 2014, Timberlake began a series of European stops on his 20/20 Experience World Tour. Aylward was home in LA and got an urgent call.

“It was one of the tour managers,” he says. “A dancer quit and they needed someone. They told me to put everything down and say yes. I did, and that night I was on a plane to London. I watched routine videos all night. I went straight to the arena in Sheffield and practiced 12 numbers that day. The second day, we worked on staging. The third day, bang, our first show.”

So began a whirlwind few years that saw Aylward perform at packed stadiums all over the world, the Super Bowl halftime show and the Academy Awards, as well as make appearances in the movie La La Land and TV shows like Dancing With the Stars and Glee. He’s performed with Usher, Rihanna, Jason Derulo, Katy Perry and Joe Jonas.

Along the way, he picked up a camera.

“It was just a hobby at first,” he says, “something to do when we weren’t dancing. Then, in 2018, I bought myself a Fujifilm X100V for my birthday. After that, it was game over. I took it everywhere.”

Despite the thrill of the stage, over the past few years Aylward has found himself pulled toward the course and the other side of the lens. His @mattywordup Instagram feed started gaining recognition in the golf space, culminating in an invitation to join the team at Augusta. While he still teaches dance, Aylward says he’s done with touring life and wants to focus on his studio and how far he can take his photography.

“The feeling of being on stage is why people do drugs,” he says. “It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had….But I’ve got some even bigger dreams now.”  

Light and Sound Matt Aylward No. 24
Light and Sound Matt Aylward No. 24
Light and Sound Matt Aylward No. 24