Brandon Matthews is not a drama major at Temple University, but on the golf course this summer, he’s produced enough theatrics to earn a starring role.
He gained national recognition after pitching in for par from behind the green at Century Country Club in Purchase, N.Y., on the 36th hole of U.S. Open sectional qualifying with a Golf Channel camera rolling. Six weeks later, he won a four-hole aggregate playoff at the Philadelphia Open.
Matthews continued his penchant for drama during Wednesday’s first-round match against Matt Pinizzotto at the 2013 U.S. Amateur. He rallied to a 1-up victory after trailing by two with four holes to play at The Country Club.
"I just get lucky in the clutch sometimes," said the 19-year-old from Dupont, Pa., a suburb of Scranton.
Pressure obviously doesn’t faze Matthews.
In early June, the Temple sophomore knew he likely needed a closing par to have a shot at qualifying for the U.S. Open. His approach from the right rough on Century’s ninth hole flew the green and stopped at the base of a tree. Without a shot, Matthews took an unplayable lie before executing a perfect flop shot from greenside rough. The ball trickled into the hole, setting off an eruption of high-fives and yells from the gallery.
Golf Channel, on the property to cover Golf’s Longest Day, recorded the feat – it immediately went viral, and also made ESPN SportsCenter’s top 10 plays of the week. Even before the segment aired, he received some 80 text messages and had 50 missed calls.
Unfortunately for Matthews, Gavin Hall birdied his last four holes to knock Matthews into first-alternate status for the Open. During his three days at Merion Golf Club honing his game on the range, however, Matthews realized his game stacked up against the best. He gained confidence even though he ultimately didn’t make the Open field.
He left Merion for the Sunnehanna Amateur on Wednesday night of Open week and was tied for 12th through 54 holes before shooting a disappointing final-round 79 to share 31st place.
In July, he won the Philadelphia Open at Waynesborough Country Club in Paoli, Pa., in a four-hole playoff against professional Billy Stewart. He also won the Patterson Cup, a 36-hole event, at Cedarbrook Country Club and qualified for his first U.S. Amateur. And he finished tied for second in the Pennsylvania Amateur to Chris Ault.
"I keep telling everyone I am not disappointed about [U.S. Open] sectionals," said Matthews. "I did what I had to do at the time. Basically what helped me there is I knew I had to do it and I did it. That’s what helps me coming down the stretch in big tournaments and big [events] like this (U.S. Amateur)."
At Merion, Matthews was like a sponge, absorbing every practice habit and swing he could from the game’s best players. He didn’t approach any of the players because it’s not his style to step into their office.
"I just don’t think that would be a good idea," he said. "I just kept my distance and watched carefully."
From a power perspective, Matthews takes a back seat to no one. On the first hole of his match against Pinizzotto, a 20-year-old from Salinas, Calif., who is entering his junior season at UCLA, Matthews, whose swing speed has been measured at 125 mph, unleashed a drive in the neighborhood of 350 yards.
Being 6-foot-4 helps, said Matthews, who won the first three holes, including the par-3 second when he rolled in a 40-footer for birdie from the left fringe.
He also found a greenside bunker off the tee with a 3-wood on the 270-yard sixth hole. But Pinizzotto won the hole with a birdie, which kick-started a string of three straight wins that squared the match after eight holes. After Matthews won Nos. 9 and 10, Pinizzotto won the next four holes to grab a 2-up lead.
On the 492-yard, par-4 15th hole, Matthews unleashed a 387-yard drive that left him just 105 yards to the green. His 62-degree wedge approach to 30 feet left of the flagstick wasn’t his best effort, but when he drained the ensuing birdie putt, his deficit was trimmed to 1 down.
"I saw the line and knocked it in," said Matthews.
At the 381-yard 17th hole, Matthews elected to hit 3-wood off the tee. His ball cleared the left fairway bunkers but nestled down in some gnarly primary rough. After Pinizzotto found trouble off the tee, Matthews hit a wedge approach that he called one of his best of the day because of the poor lie. His ball stopped 15 feet above the flagstick, and when Pinizzotto three-putted for 6, the match was all square.
On 18, Matthews split the fairway with a 3-wood while Pinizzotto again struggled and didn’t reach the green until his fifth shot. By that time, Matthews was able to calmly coax his 25-foot downhill birdie putt to within 18 inches for a conceded par and victory.
Matthews, who plays classic courses similar to The Country Club regularly in Golf Association of Philadelphia events, said that experience definitely has paid off this week. He also credited Temple golf coach Brian Quinn, who caddied for him during stroke-play qualifying before having to returnto Philadelphia on Tuesday night. Matthews’ father, Ted, was on the bag on Wednesday.
"I am very thankful for the people I have around me," said Matthews, who faces Gavin Green, of Malaysia, in the Round of 32 at 10 a.m. EDT on Thursday. "Brian is such an unbelievable guy and such an unbelievable coach. To have him on my shoulder … I would put him up against any college coach."
Then again, given what’s transpired for Matthews this summer, you could also put Matthews up against just about any other amateur.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.