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.