BY MATT BUFANO
Brandon Matthews believes that you get out what you put in.
That the 25-year-old Dupont native’s daily routine typically includes a 4:15 or 5:15 a.m. wakeup call, coupled with his success on the golf course, is proof he might be onto something.
“I’ve been on a pretty great schedule lately,” he said. “I’ve been really putting my head down and grinding away.”
Matthews’ relentless grind will pay off with a dream come true Thursday, when he makes his first start on the PGA Tour.
Matthews will tee off at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Golf Course in Orlando, about 2½ hours north of Matthews’ current residence in Florida.
“It’s what I’ve been working for, what I’ve been putting in so many hours to achieve,” Matthews said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity … and I think I’m going to be absolutely as ready as I can be come Thursday.”
Matthews will tee off at 1:19 p.m. with playing partners Hank Lebioda and Matthew NeSmith. Golf Channel will carry the first two rounds Thursday and Friday with coverage planned from 2 to 6 p.m.
What makes Matthews’ PGA Tour debut all the more special, he said, is the late Arnold Palmer’s name being attached to it.
Born in Latrobe, Palmer made his winter home at Bay Hill Club & Lodge.
“I would say he has to be right at the top, especially being from Pennsylvania,” Matthews said when asked where Palmer ranks among his golfing idols. “The way he conducted himself throughout his life was second-to-none. As a golfer, you want to model yourself after him; the way he acted, the way he carried himself was absolutely incredible.”
People have said similar things about Matthews since his brush with fame in November at the Argentine Open.
Having climbed from state champion at Pittston Area to All-American at Temple University to professional on the Korn Ferry Tour, Matthews was competing for his greatest prize yet.
Matthews was one of 156 players at the Argentine Open, a PGA Tour Latinoamerica event in Buenos Aires in which the champion automatically earned a spot in this year’s British Open.
Matthews and Ricardo Celia topped the field — tying with a four-day score of 11-under-par 269 — and went to a playoff.
Celia drained a 30-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole, putting the pressure on Matthews to make his own 8-foot putt for birdie.
Matthews’ shot was off the mark, though.
Someone yelled during Matthews’ backstroke, causing him to flinch and become frustrated at the thought of someone intentionally sabotaging his shot.
Matthews soon learned that wasn’t the case when a tournament director explained the interruption had come from a middle-aged man with Down syndrome.
The official apologized and told Matthews the man simply got excited and lost control of his emotions.
“I went out, found the guy, gave him a big hug, signed a ball and a glove for him and wanted to make sure he didn’t feel bad about the situation,” Matthews said. “I wanted to make sure he left with a smile on his face. That was as good, if not better, than a win for me.”
Matthews’ graceful handling of the situation was captured in photographs seen by millions, including ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt.
During an episode of “SportsCenter,” Van Pelt described the exchange as “a moment of pure and uncommon class and humanity after a moment of bitter disappointment” while urging British Open organizers to give Matthews an exemption.
“He’s one of thousands out there, grinding away on smaller tours with the hope of getting to the big one,” Van Pelt said. “A spot in the Open could have been a huge step, his first start in a major.”
Matthews credited his agent, Drew Carr, with helping secure an exemption at this week’s event.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational retold the story of Matthews and the man with special needs when it announced last week that Matthews was selected to its field.
“I’m very grateful of the opportunity,” said Matthews, a long hitter whose average driving distance of 331.3 yards led the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour. “I’ve been playing some really good golf and I’m really looking forward to taking advantage of the opportunity I’ve been given. To have Mr. Palmer’s event as my first PGA Tour start is something that’s beyond words. Hard to describe the emotions that are going through my head. I just can’t wait to play.”
Thanks to Matthews’ strong finish to 2019, he has earned fully exempt status this year on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica circuit. In addition to his second-place finish at the Argentine Open, Matthews tied for fifth and 36th at two other tournaments.
Through it all, the community that helped raise Matthews hasn’t strayed far from his mind, as he expressed a deep appreciation for his supporters in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
“The people back there have been so amazing it’s hard to put into words,” he said.
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About Brandon Matthews
- Hometown: Dupont
- Height: 6-foot-4
- Weight: 210
- High school: Pittston Area (4x Tryba Preseason Tournament champion, 2010 PIAA state champion)
- College: Temple (Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, 4x all-conference, honorable mention All-American)
- Pro highlights: PGA Tour Latinoamerica, 2017 Molino Canuelas Championship medalist; Korn Ferry Tour, two top-10 finishes in 2018; PGA Tour, first start Thursday at Arnold Palmer Invitational