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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Matthews will start with some status on Web.com Tour after finshing tied for 25th in Q-School


   Former Temple standout Brandon Matthews will start 2019 on the Web.com Tour in pretty much the same place he started the developmental tour in 2018.
   Matthews, the 2010 PIAA champion as a junior at Pittston, fired a solid 4-under-par 68 on the Whirlwind Golf Club’s Cattail Course in Chandler, Ariz. in the final round of the Web.com Tour Q-School Final Stage Sunday to finish in the group tied for 25th at 19-under 269.
   The 24-year-old Matthews will be exempt for the first eight events on the 2019 Web.com Tour schedule, his standing subject to a reshuffle following four events. When he finished tied for 42nd in the Q-School Final Stage a year ago, he had basically the same status, although 17 places higher does matter. 
   Matthews, a two-time Philadelphia Open champion while he was still an amateur, will have to play better than he did early in 2018 to keep moving forward toward his goal of making it to the PGA Tour. But he should gain a little momentum off his solid showing at Whirlwind the last four days.
   Matthews opened with a 1-under 71 at Cattail and then ripped off back-to-back 7-under 65s at the Devil’s Claw Course. Saturday’s third round included a spectacular burst during which he went 7-under for the final seven holes of his round, which concluded on Devil’s Claw front nine.
   Matthews offset two bogeys with three birdies on the front nine at Cattail Sunday. He then finished up strong, making birdies at the 10th, 13th and 16th holes and no bogeys on the incoming nine.
   Only the champion, former Virginia standout Danny Walker, earned a full-year exemption on the Web.com Tour for next year. I’ve focused so much on the battle for status for next year on the Web.com Tour for the players in the Final Stage, I never mentioned that the winner gets $50,000, a nice added bonus for Walker.
   The players who finished second through 10th are exempt through the first 12 events on the 2019 Web.com Tour schedule. Looks like the players between 12th and the large group that finished tied for 34th are exempt through the first eight events.
   Every player who made it to the Q-School Final Stage earned conditional status on the Web.com Tour for 2019, but the further down that list you are, the harder it is to crack the field for an event.
   That’s where a couple of recent Penn State standouts, JD Dornes, a product of the Manheim Township program, and Cole Miller, who starred scholastically at Northwestern Lehigh, find themselves.
   The 24-year-old Dornes finished strong Sunday, firing an 8-under 64 at Devil’s Claw to end up in the group tied for 64th at 16-under 272. That’s the kind of competition you’re facing in the Q-School Final Stage. You shoot 16-under and can’t do better than tied for 64th.
   But give Dornes credit. He battled through Stages One and Two in the Q-School process to reach the Final Stage. He’ll need a breakout performance when he gets a shot in a Web.com event in 2019, but the dream of making it to the big leagues, the PGA Tour, is still alive.
   The 23-year-old  Miller graduated in the spring after one of the finest campaigns in the history of the Penn State program, highlighted by his individual title in the 2017 Washington Regional that helped the Nittany Lions reach the NCAA Championship as a team.
   Miller finished strong Sunday as well, posting a 6-under 66 at Devil’s Claw, but he struggled in the middle two rounds at Cattail. He finished in the group tied for 125th at 4-under 284. Miller had some success on the Mackenzie Tour – PGA Tour Canada – in the summer. Not sure if that’s an option for him again, but we’ll see.
   As I mentioned in a Friday post, Miller made birdie on the final hole of his final Mackenzie Tour regular-season event,  the Freedom 55 Financial Championship in London, Ontario, that enabled him to finish 25th on the Mackenzie Tour money list. It also allowed him to bypass Stage One of Q-School.
   The winner of that event back in mid-September was Danny Walker, a victory that enabled him to go directly to the Final Stage of Q-School.
   And Sunday Walker made six birdies on the back nine at Cattail, including birdies at the last three holes, to post a 9-under 63 that earned him the victory. They were pretty far apart, but the 23-year-old Walker has won two straight Web.com Tour starts.
   Walker, a High Point, N.C. native, finished third in last spring's Atlantic Coast Conference Championship, going 13-under in a birdie-fest at the Old North State Club in New London, N.C., so it’s not like the guy came out of nowhere. His nine-birdie, no-bogey effort Sunday enabled him to finish at 27-under 261.
   Walker finished a shot ahead of the best player in Division I in 2017-’18, Oregon’s Norman Xiong, winner of both the Haskins and Jack Nicklaus awards. Xiong, one of the heroes of a 19-7 victory for the United States over Great Britain & Ireland in the 2017 Walker Cup Match at Los Angeles Country Club, capped a solid week at Whirlwind with a 3-under 69 at Cattail that left him at 26-under 262.
   One of Xiong’s teammates on that U.S. Walker Cup team, former Texas standout Doug Ghim, headed a group of five players that finished tied for third at 25-under 263. Ghim, the low amateur at the Masters last spring and runnerup in the 2017 U.S. Amateur at Riviera Country Club, finished up with a 7-under 65 at Cattail Sunday.
   Another former Virginia standout, Jimmy Stanger, the ACC’s individual champion in 2017, was also in the group at 263. Stanger had a share of the lead after 54 holes, but only managed a 2-under 70 at Cattail Sunday.
   Rounding out the group at 263 were Xinjun Zhang, a 31-year-old from China who finished up with a 7-under 65 at Cattail, Timothy Madigan, a 30-year-old from the Mackenzie Tour who finished with a 3-under 69 at Cattail and Michael Gellerman, a former Oklahoma standout who posted a 4-under 68 at Cattail in the final round.
   Ghim’s teammate at Texas and on the 2017 U.S. Walker Cup team, Scottie Scheffler, cooled off in the final round with a 1-under 71 at Cattail to finish in the group tied for 34th at 18-under 270.  Scheffler, the low amateur in the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, is in the same boat as Matthews. He’ll be exempt for the first eight events on the 2019 Web.com Tour.
   Another member of that 2017 U.S. Walker Cup team, Braden Thornberry, the 2017 NCAA individual champion as a sophomore at Mississippi, posted a 2-under 70 at Cattail Sunday and finished tied for 74th at 14-under 274.
   Thornberry competed as an amateur and indicated before the tournament that he would turn pro if he finished in the top 40 and ties and earned an exemption into eight events. He’s probably leaning toward returning to Old Miss for the spring portion of his senior season, but he’s got some time to think about it.
   Every guy at Whirlwind for the Web.com Tour Q-School Final Stage has a story you could tell. One name jumped out at me in the group tied with Matthews for 25th, that of Drew Weaver.
   Weaver was on the campus of Virginia Tech in the spring of 2007 when a shooter gunned down 33 people in one of the worse mass shootings in U.S. history. A couple of months later, sort of out of nowhere, Weaver became the unlikely American winner of The Amateur Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
   Weaver had intended to take a shot at one of the biggest events in amateur golf, but I couldn’t help but think that the events of that fateful day at Virginia Tech didn’t play some strange role in his mental approach a few weeks and half a world away later. Kind of like, a poor golf shot didn't seem to matter as much in the big picture.
   Weaver was part of a talented group of U.S. players – and that Tommy Fleetwood fella from the GB&I side turned out to be a pretty good player -- who I got to watch win the Walker Cup Match at Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course in 2009 just before he turned pro. He’s been pretty much beating the bushes ever since.
   But there he was this week at Whirlwind, the 31-year-old still chasing his dream. Weaver had four rounds in the 60s, finishing up with a 4-under 68 at Cattail Sunday for a 19-under 269. After all these years, Drew Weaver can still play a little bit.


Saturday, December 8, 2018

Matthews makes his move in Web.com Tour Q-School Final Stage with front-nine 29


   You’d be forgiven if you made it all the way to the Web.com Tour Q-School Final Stage and had just a little crisis of confidence when you realized there are 100-plus guys who are just as good, if not a little better, as you are and aren’t on the PGA Tour – yet.
   People in Golf Association of Philadelphia circles know how good Brandon Matthews is. He beat the best the Philadelphia area has to offer, amateur or pro, to win the Philadelphia Open in 2013 at Waynesborough Country Club and again in 2015 at the Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Wissahickon Course. Temple golf coach Brian Quinn knows how good Matthews, one of the best, if not the best, to ever play golf for the Owls, is.
   Saturday on the front nine of Whirlwind Golf Club’s Devil’s Claw Course in Chandler, Ariz. that Brandon Matthews suddenly appeared. The doubts of so-so season on the Web.com Tour were suddenly behind him. And maybe the 24-year-old Pittston native proved, maybe to himself more than anybody else, that he belongs.
   Matthews had gotten it going on the front nine of Devil’s Claw in Friday’s second round, making three birdies and an eagle in a stretch of seven holes. It helped him fire a 7-under 65 and move into a tie for 49th.
   Everybody in the field at the Final Stage has some Web.com Tour status for 2019, but the top 40 players are exempt for the first eight events and a top-10 finish will guarantee that you’re exempt for the first 12 events. Everybody else has conditional status and the conditions get exponentially less favorable the higher you are on the list.
   Matthews started on No. 10 at Devil’s Claw Saturday and wasn’t doing much for a long time. He birdied the 15th hole and bogeyed the 16th hole. He parred the first two holes on the front nine. Did I mention how important it is to be patient when birdies and eagles are happening all around you, when the leaderboard is a sea of red and, oh, just your professional future is on the line?
   And then it happened. Matthews eagled the par-5 third. Then he birdied the fourth. And then he birdied the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth to cap a breathtaking 7-under 29 on the outgoing nine that gave him a second straight 65.
   Matthews zoomed into a tie for 23rd at 15-under 201 after three rounds. Suddenly, top 40 seems doable. Suddenly, top 10 isn’t out of the question.
   I’m guessing that Matthews will finish up Sunday on the Cattail Course, which is not yielding the kind of low numbers that Devil’s Claw has this week. Matthews opened with a 1-under 71 at Cattail Thursday. But a spectacular burst of 7-under golf in seven holes should give him a bit of a confidence boost.
   A couple of Penn State standouts, JD Dornes, a senior on Manheim Township’s 2011 PIAA championship team whom I missed in my Friday post on the Web.com Tour Q-School Final Stage, and Cole Miller, a Northwestern Lehigh product, struggled a little Saturday.
   I mentioned in Friday’s post that Miller, who led Penn State to the NCAA Championship by winning the  individual title in the Washington Regional as a junior in 2017, had avoided Stage One of Web-com Tour Q-School by finishing 25th on the Mackenzie Tour – PGA Tour Canada – money list. Dornes did not have that luxury.
   Dornes advanced out of Stage One on the number at Highland Oaks in Dothan, Ala. in October. He advanced out of Stage Two at the Plantation Preserve Golf Course & Club in Plantation, Fla., you guessed it, on the number, last month.
   Dornes reached the Web.com Tour Q-School Final Stage a year ago, but a high finish didn’t give him much chance to actually play. Dornes fired a 3-under 69 at Cattail Saturday and is in the group tied for 84th at 8-under 208.
   Miller struggled to a 4-over 76 at Cattail in the third round and is tied for 132nd at 2-over 218.
   The cream rose to the top at Whirlwind Saturday as Jimmy Stanger, the Atlantic Coast Conference individual champion in 2017 at Virginia, Norman Xiong, the winner of the Fred Haskins and Jack Nicklaus awards at Oregon last spring, and Andy Zhang, the Southeastern Conference individual champion last spring at Florida, are tied for the lead at 23-under 193 after three rounds.
   Stanger, quite famously, opened with an 80 in last year’s Final Stage and rallied, but not enough to gain more than conditional status. That’s not going to happen this year. Stanger fired a 9-under 63 at Devil’s Claw to earn his share of the top spot.
   Xiong, one of the heroes of a dominant 19-7 victory for the U.S. over Great Britain & Ireland in the 2017 Walker Cup Match at Los Angeles Country Club, carded an 8-under 65 at Devil’s Claw Saturday. Zhang posted a sparkling 8-under 64 at Devil’s Claw to climb into the tie for first.
   Timothy Madigan, a 30-year-old who played the Mackenzie Tour in 2018, fired a 9-under 63 at Devil’s Claw and is alone in fourth at 22-under 194.
   Michael Gellerman, the former Oklahoma standout who flirted with 59 before settling for 60 at Devil’s Claw in Friday’s second round, came back with a 9-under 63 at Devil’s Claw Saturday to share fifth place with Californian Kevin Lucas at 21-under 195. Lucas fired a 7-under 65 at Devil’s Claw Saturday.
   Former Texas standout Doug Ghim, who went 4-0 in that Walker Cup Match at L.A. Country Club a couple of weeks after a runnerup finish in the U.S. Amateur at Riviera Country Club and who was the low amateur at the Masters last spring – yeah, he’s good – carded a 66 at Devil’s Claw and is in the group tied for ninth at 18-under 198.
   Ghim’s teammate at Texas and on the winning 2017 U.S. Walker Cup team, Scottie Scheffler, the low amateur in the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, had a 4-under 68 at Devil’s Claw and is in the group tied for 14th at 17-under 199.
   A fourth member of that U.S. Walker Cup team, Braden Thornberry, the 2017 NCAA individual champion at Mississippi, is competing as an amateur. He said before the tournament started that if he doesn’t finish in the top 40 and gain some exempt status, he might return to Old Miss for the remainder of his senior season.
   Thornberry fell back into a tie for 58th at 12-under 204 with a 2-under 70 at Devil’s Claw, where he had opened the tournament with a sizzling 10-under 62 Thursday.
   It doesn’t quite have the drama that the old PGA Tour Q-School did, but the Web.com Q-School Final Stage does have what that old-school tour qualifier had: Tons of talented players dreaming big and taking their shot.




Friday, December 7, 2018

Matthews fires 65 as he tries to gain some status in Web.com Q-School Final Stage


   Former Temple standout and two-time Philadelphia Open champion Brandon Matthews fired a 7-under-par 65 on the Whirlwind Golf Club’s Devil’s Claw Course in Chandler, Ariz. Friday to put himself in position to gain some status for 2019 in the Web.com Tour Q-School Final Stage.
   Matthews opened with a 1-under 71 on the Cattail Course in Thursday’s opening round and Friday’s strong showing left him in the group tied for 49th at 8-under 136.
   Only the medalist at the Final Stage is exempt for the entire 2019 Web.com Tour campaign. The players who finish second through 10th are exempt through the first 12 events and the players who finish 11th through 40th are exempt through the first eight events.
   There are reshuffles after every four events which can affect a player’s standing. The rest of the players who made it to the Final Stage earn conditional status for 2019.
   The 24-year-old Matthews, the 2010 PIAA champion as a junior at Pittston, finished tied for 42nd a year ago at Whirlwind, which was good enough to earn him the exemption for eight events.
   Matthews had a couple of solid showings early in 2018, finishing in a tie for 10th at the North Mississippi Classic in April and in a tie for seventh in the Nashville Golf Open Benefiting the Snedeker Foundation in May.
   But he struggled for much of the rest of the year, earning $65,220 to finish 82nd on the Web.com Tour money list.
   The Devil’s Claw Course has yielded some low numbers the first two days. Not sure if Matthews started on the first tee, but he got it going on the front nine at Devil’s Claw with birdies at the second and fourth holes, an eagle at the sixth and a birdie at the eighth before making a bogey at the ninth.
   On the back nine, Matthews made a bogey at the 11th before rattling off birdies at the 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th holes. It added up to seven birdies, an eagle and two bogeys for a 7-under 65.
   Former Penn State standout Cole Miller, who starred scholastically at Northwestern Lehigh, has some work to do to move up the ladder for the Web.com Tour for next year.
   Miller, who won the 2016 Pennsylvania Amateur at Moselem Springs Golf Club, opened with a solid 4-under 68 at Devil’s Claw Thursday, but struggled with a 2-over 74 at the Cattail Course Friday and is tied for 122nd at 2-under 142.
   It doesn’t appear that there was a cut, so it looks like the field will get another shot at both courses over the weekend.
   Miller capped one of the finest careers in the history of the Penn State program last spring by leading the Nittany Lions to a berth in the NCAA Columbus Regional. Penn State came up just short of a second straight trip to the NCAA Championship with a sixth-place finish.
   The 23-year-old Miller made eight cuts in nine starts on the Mackenzie Tour – PGA Tour Canada. He had three top-10 finishes and earned $30,675.
   Miller birdied the final hole for a 5-under 65 in his final event, the Freedom 55 Financial Championship, to finish in a tie for ninth and that got him to 25th on the Mackenzie Tour money list, just enough to avoid having to tee it up in Stage One of the Web.com Tour Q-School.
   Miller finished in a tie for 13th in Stage Two at the Plantation Preserve Golf Club in Plantation, Fla. last month to earn himself a trip to Whirlwind.
   Leading the pack after two rounds is Norman Xiong, the former Oregon standout who swept both the Fred Haskins and Jack Nicklaus awards as the top player in Division I for the 2017-’18 season.
   Xiong, one of the heroes of a dominating 19-7 victory for the United States over Great Britain & Ireland in the 2017 Walker Cup Match at Los Angeles Country Club, added a 9-under 63 at Devil’s Claw to his opening-round 65 at Cattail for a 16-under 128 total. Xiong is of Chinese heritage, was born in Guam and grew up in California.
   You probably figured out that if 8-under only had Matthews in a tie for 49th, there were some pretty good players teeing it up in this thing.
   Andy Zhang, also a native of China who captured the Southeastern Conference individual title as a sophomore at Florida last spring, is tied for second with Jamie Arnold, a 35-year-old Australian, and Xinjun Zhang, a 31-year-old from China, at 15-under 129.
   Andy Zhang added a 6-under 66 at Devil’s Claw to the sparkling 9-under 63 he opened with at Cattail. Arnold fired a spectacular 11-under 61 at Devil’s Claw Friday after opening with a 68 at Cattail. Xinjun Zhang fired a 9-under 63 at Cattail in Friday’s second round after opening with a 6-under 66 at Devil’s  Claw.
   Arnold’s 61, however, was not the low round of the day at Devil’s Claw. That belonged to former Oklahoma standout Michael Gellerman, who was on 59 watch before making a par on the 18th hole to finish with a blazing 12-under 60.
   The 26-year-old Gellerman eagled both par-5s on the outgoing nine and added three birdies, somehow making a bogey on the fifth. He ripped off six birdies on the incoming nine, including four straight from the 14th through the 17th holes.
   This came after a pedestrian even-par 72 at Cattail in Thursday’s opening round and left Gellerman in the group tied for 14th at 12-under 132. Like Miller, Gellerman played on the Mackenzie Tour this year after playing on the Web.com Tour in 2017.
   A couple of former Texas teammates, Scottie Scheffler and Doug Ghim, are also among the top 15. Scheffler and Ghim were also members of the winning U.S. Walker Cup side in 2017.
   Scheffler, the low amateur in the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, also got it going at Devil’s Claw Friday, firing a 10-under 62 after opening with a 3-under 69 at Cattail in the opening round and is in the group tied for ninth at 13-under 131.
   Ghim, the runnerup in the 2017 U.S. Amateur at Riviera Country Club, is in the group tied for 14th along with Gellerman at 12-under 132. Ghim carded a 4-under 68 at Devil’s Claw after blitzing Cattail with an 8-under 64 in the opening round.
   Another member of that 2017 U.S. Walker Cup team, Mississippi standout Braden Thornberry, the 2017 NCAA individual champion, is competing as an amateur at Whirlwind. He made it pretty clear in pre-tournament comments that if he finishes among the top 40 in the Web.com Tour Q-School Final Stage, he will turn pro and not return to Old Miss for the spring portion of his senior year.
   Thornberry looked like he was on his way when he opened with a sizzling 10-under 62 in the opening round at Devil’s Claw. He backed off a little with an even-par 72 at Cattail Friday, but that still leaves him among the group tied for 29th at 10-under 134.