HomeLifestyleHow a viral scream led to Brandon Matthews’ PGA tour bid
How a viral scream led to Brandon Matthews’ PGA tour bid
ORLANDO, Fla. — One poignant, unexpected moment sent Brandon Matthews here.
Now, one magical week can change the life of the obscure 25-year-old golfer from northeast Pennsylvania who’s playing in his first-ever PGA Tour event this week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
If you’ve never heard of Matthews, you’re not alone. If you have, it’s likely because of something he did off the golf course after a devastating defeat on it.
It’s because of that moment that Matthews — so low on the totem pole that he doesn’t even have playing status on the Korn Ferry Tour — will be teeing it up alongside the likes of Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Jason Day and Adam Scott this week at Bay Hill.
“I’ve worked my whole life for this,’’ Matthews said Tuesday. “I have a lot of self-belief in my game. I truly feel like this is where I belong and this is where I need to be.’’
So here he is.
Matthews, playing in the Visa Open de Argentina on the PGA Tour Latinoamérica last fall, was standing over an 8-foot putt to force a fourth playoff hole and keep his hopes alive for an exemption into the 2020 British Open with a victory.
“I got over the putt, took the putter back and heard kind of a yelp or a scream,” Matthews recalled. “I kind of flinched on the putt and immediately knew I missed it. I thought someone had done it intentionally. I was frustrated. I was in shock that that happened.’’
After he trudged to the locker room, eliminated from the playoff and dejected, Matthews was approached by a tournament official who apologized to him and informed him that a fan with Down syndrome had inadvertently made the noise.
Matthews immediately asked the official to bring him to the fan, named Juan, so he could meet him.
“My mom used to work in group homes, and I was around that kind of stuff my entire childhood,’’ Matthews said. “My best friend’s little sister has Down syndrome. So I saw it on a daily basis and I just kind of have a special place in my heart for it. I just wanted to make sure that [Juan] didn’t feel bad. I gave him a hug and I asked him, ‘Hey, are you doing OK? Are you having fun?’ I didn’t want to anyone to be mad at him. I didn’t want him to be mad at himself. I wanted to make sure he knew that I wasn’t mad.’’
On Tuesday, before he went out for his practice round, PGA Tour officials showed Matthews a video message from Juan wishing him well this week.
“Some things,’’ Matthews said, “are bigger than golf.’’
Matthews didn’t get that spot into the British Open with a win that day, but his gesture went viral on social media. Roy Saunders and his wife, Amy, Palmer’s daughter, were among the many introduced to Matthews via that incident. They make up a large part of the committee that hands out invitations into the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“I know that, had Mr. Palmer been here with us, he would have given him an exemption,’’ Roy Saunders told The Post on Tuesday. “For him to have his first opportunity on the PGA Tour to be at Mr. Palmer’s tournament, I think that’s a very fitting launch.’’
Speaking of launch, Matthews hits the ball farther than the biggest hitters on the PGA Tour, carrying his driver 330 yards with minimal effort, hitting his 2-iron 290 yards and 7-iron 200 yards.
The man charged with harnessing Matthews’ power into accurate consistency is his swing coach, Dale Gray, who’s been a senior instructor at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan since 2008.
“He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen,’’ Gray said Tuesday. “He’s dedicated. He’s determined to be out here. He belongs out here. He’s got talent I’ve never seen before.’’
That’s a weighty statement coming from Gray, who worked under Tiger Woods’ swing coach Hank Haney from 1996 to 2008 and was there for all six major championships Woods won under Haney’s watch.
“The biggest thing is going to be keeping him in the moment this week,’’ Gray said. “This isn’t the Korn Ferry Tour. There’s a little different vibe and energy that’s going to be going on for him.’’
Matthews said he’s stoked to “see how my game stacks up’’ against the best players in the world, “see how ready it is.’’
“I love this stage,’’ he said. “I can’t wait to compete on it.’’
For Roy Saunders, the only story that would top Matthews winning this week would be seeing his son, Sam, break through with his first PGA Tour victory.
“It would be a wonderful story and a great thing for Brandon,’’ Saunders said. “The purse is now $9.3 million and there’s a three-year exemption to the winner. Talk about something that would be a game-changer for this guy if he wins.’’