BY DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Brandon Matthews makes his PGA Tour debut this week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, all because of a putt he missed last November in the Argentine Open.
And the invitation to Bay Hill had nothing to do with the putt.
Matthews faced an 8-foot putt to extend a sudden-death playoff in the PGA Tour Latinoamerica event. A victory would mean a spot in the British Open and, perhaps more importantly to his career, graduation to the Korn Ferry Tour.
A fan screamed out in the middle of his stroke, and Matthews missed. He turned around in disbelief at such behavior, only to learn it was a middle-aged man with Down syndrome. Moments later, Matthews consoled the fan with a hug and signed a glove for him.
“I was frustrated at first, didn’t understand the full circumstances behind it,” Matthews said Tuesday. “But once I did, it was a pretty easy situation for me to handle.”
His mother used to work in group homes. His best friend’s sister has Down syndrome. He knows what the chromosomal disorder involves.
“I saw it on a daily basis and I just kind of have a special place in my heart for it,” Matthews said.
The moment got plenty of traction on social media and to organizers of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. They offered him an exemption to the tournament — Matthews, like Palmer, is from Pennsylvania — for a gesture symbolic of the King.
Matthews said he thought nothing of the moment, even when a friend told him it would be seen everywhere.
“I said: ‘No, it’s not. We’re in Buenos Aires. Nothing is going to come of this,’” he said. “I’m just happy I was able to make this guy happy and put a smile on his face. I had no idea it was going to get as big as it did.”
And now he tees it up alongside Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka, Xander Schauffele and Phil Mickelson.
Matthews, who played at Temple, has spent the last few years on the Korn Ferry Tour and the PGA Tour Latinoamerica. He played once on the European Tour at the Porsche Open.
The PGA Tour Latinoamerica begins this week in Mexico. Matthews wants to make the most of his opportunity at Bay Hill.
“I’m just so happy to be here,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to get any reaction to what happened, so just to be sitting here today, to be able to compete this week is something that’s really special that I’m very thankful for.”
HALL OF FAME
Tiger Woods and former PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem are among 10 finalists who will be voted on next week for the World Golf Hall of Fame class of 2021.
Woods was among four finalists from the male category that include three-time major champion Padraig Harrington, British Open champion and architect Tom Weiskopf, and the late U.S. Open champion Johnny Farrell.
Four women nominated as finalists are Dottie Pepper, Sandra Palmer, Beverly Hanson and Susie Maxwell Berning. Finchem and Marion Hollins, the U.S. Women’s Amateur champion involved in building Cypress Point and Pasatiempo, were nominated as contributors, which replaces the Veteran’s category and Lifetime Achievement category.
The finalists were determined by a nominating committee of 26 people, including six Hall of Famers and 10 media members.
A 20-member selection committee, comprising Hall of Fame members, media and leaders of major golf organizations, will make the final selections.
The PGA Tour this year has 14 tournaments at the start of the year leading to the Masters. With the tour not starting until Jan. 7 next year in Hawaii, that leaves only 13 weeks before the Masters.