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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Matthews making it happen on PGA Tour Latinoamerica

   I had lost track of the fledgling professional career of Brandon Matthews after he wrapped up what is arguably the finest career in the history of Temple golf last spring.
   The goal of making it to the Big Show, the PGA Tour, has never seemed tougher, in part because there are so many talented players out there. In the middle of his senior season at Temple, Matthews, the 2010 PIAA champion as a junior at Pittston Area, reached Stage 2 of the Web.com Qualifying School. When he failed to advance, he was able to retain his amateur status and return for the spring portion of his senior season.
   From what I’ve heard – in the blogger world you can throw out that kind of flimsy attribution when you really don’t know -- he didn’t make it out of Stage 1 of Q-School last year, in part because he wasn’t really playing his best golf when the qualifying process started. And like I said, these qualifiers are full of guys who can really play, so if you show up with less than your best, the results are predictable enough.
   Apparently, Matthews looked around for a Plan B and found it. Hello, South America. The Golf Association of Philadelphia website brought welcome news this week to a golf community disheartened by winter’s unreasonable decision to not go quietly.
   Matthews, still only 22, claimed a one-shot victory in the PGA Tour Latinoamerica’s Molina Canuelas Championship at the Canuelas Golf Club in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The victory earned Matthews $31,500. More importantly, it put him atop the PGA Tour Latinoamerica’s Order of Merit.
   I’ll keep checking on this, but it appears that if Matthews can hold on to a top-5 spot in the final Order of Merit, he qualifies for the Web.com Tour next year. And short of winning the U.S. Open as a qualifier, the Web.com is one of the few avenues to the PGA Tour these days.
   Matthews qualified for the PGA Tour Latinoamerica by finishing tied for ninth in the Mexico Q-School in January. In his tour debut in last month’s Avianca Colombia Open at the Guaymoral Country Club in Bogota, he had a solid showing, finishing tied for ninth.
   He opened up last week at Canuelas Golf Club with a 4-under 68 and added a 2-under 70 in Round 2. Then he unfurled a burst of brilliance that observers of Temple and the GAP scene the last few years have seen before when he fired a 7-under 65 to take a three-shot lead into the final round.
   After a couple of hiccups early in the final round, Matthews steadied himself and matched par with a 72, his 13-under 275 total holding off the hard-charging duo of Matias Simaski and Jared Wolfe by a shot.
   “It’s pretty cool,” Matthews told the PGA Tour Latinoamerica in his typically understated fashion. “Hopefully we can keep it going as a trend and get a couple more wins here before the first half of the season is over. I’m really happy how things turned out, obviously, and I’m definitely looking forward to what’s ahead.”
   I was at a sweltering Waynesborough Country Club in 2013 when Matthews beat Billy Stewart in a playoff to capture the Philadelphia Open on his way to capturing GAP’s William Hyndman III Player of the Year award that year. He won a second Philadelphia Open title at Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Wissahickon Course in 2015.
   The Philly Open field is filled with talented players, amateurs and professionals young and old who can really, really play. And in both cases, Matthews’ beaten foes did nothing but praise his ability and the way he conducted himself.
   He’s a really nice kid and a really nice player. You couldn’t help but think after those Philadelphia Open wins that he had what it takes to some day make it to the PGA Tour. Maybe with a victory in Argentina, he’s on his way.
   Next stop: This week’s Guatemala Stella Artois Open at the Fuego Maya Course at the La Reunion Golf Resort & Residences in Antigua, Guatemala.

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