Matthews shows profound grace in face of defeat
Temple alum meets with fan, who has Down syndrome, who yelled during missed putt to extend VISA Open de Argentina playoff
November 19, 2019
By Zephyr Melton, PGATOUR.COM
- November 19, 2019
- A fan with Down syndrome yelled while Brandon Matthews was putting for birdie to extend a playoff last Sunday in Argentina. (PGA TOUR Latinoamérica Media)
Late Sunday afternoon in Argentina, Brandon Matthews faced a 12-foot putt to maintain his hopes of 2020 Korn Ferry Tour status.
It was the third playoff hole of 114 VISA Open de Argentina presentado por Macro. Playoff adversary Ricardo Celia had just drained a 32-footer to apply pressure.
As Matthews drew back the putter blade, a middle-aged fan let out an audible scream.
“At the time," Matthews said, "I was disappointed that someone would scream out under the circumstances."
While cleaning out his locker, though, in preparation for a red-eye flight home to south Florida and weeks of dwelling on the what-ifs, Matthews learned a piece of information that quickly reshaped his perspective.
It had been a rough 2019 for Matthews, a long-hitting, fourth-year pro who played collegiately at Temple.
After making 13 of 21 cuts in his rookie Korn Ferry Tour campaign of 2018, and then regaining guaranteed starts via a T25 finish at Final Stage of last fall's Qualifying Tournament, he readied for this season with an abundance of optimism that a PGA TOUR card could be in his near future.
Golf does not always follow such a convenient script. Matthews battles nagging back issues; he spent the year making minor tweaks to keep his swing stable, and consistent rhythm inside the ropes was hard to come by.
He knew a swing change was inevitable, but not during the season as he fought desperately to maintain status. Things didn't come around, though, as he made just four cuts in 21 starts, finishing No. 184 on the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Points List and necessitating a return to First Stage of Q-School.
Three weeks into the change -- shortening and flattening the swing while maintaining a wide arc -- Matthews wasn't nearly tournament-ready, and he missed by 11 shots at his site in Mobile, Alabama. This meant his lone remaining route to 2020 Korn Ferry Tour status was a top-5 finish on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica Order of Merit (if he hadn't competed at Q-School, a top-10 position would earn status).
“It’s a tough state of mind to be in, questioning if you really want to keep doing this,” Matthews said of his recent on-course struggles. “But I have an incredible support system. Everybody is so encouraging around me ... they kept me going. That kept me going.
"It got to a point one day, where I'm like, 'Alright, this is what you've wanted to do for as long as you can remember.' (Because of the tweaked back) ... I have to do a little more than a 25-year-old has to do to get ready in the mornings, so on and so forth. I have to spend three or four hours a day maintaining that. I decided that it’s worth it for what could potentially happen in the end. So I started working hard on that, on my golf swing."
After a tie for fifth at the Neuquen Argentina Classic the week prior, Matthews arrived at the 114 VISA Open de Argentina presentado por Macro needing a win to maintain his hopes of 2020 Korn Ferry Tour status. (He would also need to win the season-ending Shell Championship in early December to have a chance at cracking the top-5.)
Matthews played inspired golf, shooting 11-under for 72 holes to enter a playoff with Celia. The first two extra holes were halved with pars.
Then came Celia's long-range birdie, the fan's scream, and Matthews' miss.
In the locker room a short time later, Matthews was informed by TOUR official Claudio Rivas that the man who had made the noise was a fan with Down syndrome.
Matthews immediately asked to go meet the fan.
“I just wanted to make sure he didn’t have any hurt feelings,” Matthews said. “I wanted to make sure it was a positive day for him … I wanted him to feel good about being there and continue to be a fan of golf.”
Matthews gave the man a hug and a signed glove, showing compassion in the face of disappointment.
While Matthews still has a mathematical chance to sneak into the top-10 on the Order of Merit, which typically grants players Korn Ferry Tour membership for the following season, he is ineligible for that benefit because of his failure to move on from First Stage earlier in the fall, adding another layer to the disappointment.
(He can now finish no better than No. 8 on Los Cinco; players who miss at First or Second Stage need to finish top-5 in order to earn Korn Ferry Tour membership.)
But despite losing a chance at regaining Korn Ferry Tour status, Matthews has kept a level-headed perspective on the entire ordeal.
Nearly five years from turning 30, the Pennsylvania native knows that much time remains in his lifelong chase for a PGA TOUR card -- and that human interaction resides at the core of all life experience, far more so than one's position on a tournament leaderboard.
“There are some things in life that are just bigger than golf,” Matthews said. “And this was one of them.”Brandon Matthews meets with a fan, who has Down syndrome, who yelled during a missed playoff putt in Argentina. (PGA TOUR Latinoamérica Media)