Brandon Matthews described the silence around the green as “deafening” as he lined up an 8-foot birdie putt that would keep him alive in the playoff for the Argentina Open title that brought with it an invitation to the 2020 British Open.
But as he was about to strike his putt, he heard a noise in the crowd and missed. The series of events that followed was “the kind of thing you remember forever … feels as good, if not better, than winning," he said.
Matthews, 25, who starred at Temple before turning pro in 2016, learned that the person who made the noise was a man who has Down syndrome. Before he knew that, he had glared into the gallery before heading to the locker room thinking that someone made the noise on purpose.
That all changed when Claudio Rivas, the tournament manager for the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, explained who the man, identified only as Juan, was.
“He explained to me that it was a middle-aged man with Down syndrome that had a little bit of an outburst, lost control of his emotions,” Matthews said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “As soon as that happened, I said, ‘You need to take me to this guy as soon as you can.’
“They took me to him. He gave me a huge smile. The reaction on his face made my day, made my year, made my life, kind of thing. It was pretty incredible. I immediately gave the guy a hug, signed a ball and glove for him and just talked with the guy for a brief period. I just wanted to make sure that he wasn’t upset by the situation, knew that I wasn’t upset by the situation.
“I just tried to do the right thing. It was something that I needed to do, didn’t think twice about it. Like I keep telling everybody, I hope that everyone would do the same in that kind of situation.”
Matthews, who is originally from Dupont, Pa., near Scranton, said he was “around special needs for a lot of my childhood” because his mother managed group homes. Also, his best friend’s younger sister had Down syndrome and he saw her frequently.
“I was around it on an almost daily basis and it’s something kind of close to my heart,” he said. “It’s something that I knew I needed to do. I was a little frustrated at myself once I heard the full situation because I felt terrible that I reacted like that and didn’t understand the situation quicker.”
Matthews is coming back from a trying season. He won a PGA Tour Latinoamerica event in 2017 that helped him advance to what is now called the Korn Ferry Tour, one step away from the PGA Tour. But he lost his card after a 2019 season that saw him make only four cuts in 21 tournaments.
He returned to the PGA Tour Latinoamerica “to regain some status” and finished in a tie for fifth in his first event before last weekend, when he dueled Ricardo Celia, the tournament winner. Matthews birdied 17 and 18 to force the playoff and lipped out a birdie putt at the second extra hole that would have ended it.
Celia sank a 30-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole, and won the event when Matthews missed his putt. But the result, and the ensuing moments with Juan, won the runner-up worldwide acclaim.
“It’s been humbling, completely humbling,” Matthews said. “People from around the world have been reaching out. Honestly, I’m blown away by the support that people have shown me over the last 48 hours. But also, I really don’t want this to overshadow too much about what Ricardo did either. He played fantastic the entire day.