You can’t get much closer than Brandon Matthews did last year.
In his first attempt at qualifying for the U.S. Open, Matthews, a Pittston Area grad and Dupont native, was an alternate for the 113th U.S. Open held at Merion Country Club.
Matthews, a Temple University sophomore, will return to Purchase, N.Y. for the U.S. Open Sectionals Monday — this time for a chance to play at the famed Pinehurst No. 2, starting on June 12.
It’s been a whirlwind 365 days for Matthews. He’s played a lot of competitive golf. And now he’s ready to get back to the place where he holds some of his fondest memories. This time he hopes to get out of Purchase with a little more than an alternate spot.
“I’m a little more mature,” Matthews said. “I have a bit more experience; a little more confidence. I appreciate the support from everyone back home. Everyone is so great to me and I can’t thank everyone enough for being so kind.”
Matthews was exempt from this year’s local qualifying because of his finish at last year’s U.S. Amateur Championships. And that took a lot of weight off his shoulders.
“Mentally it takes a lot of stress out,” he said. “Local qualifying isn’t easy. You have to be playing well if you want to make it.”
Qualifying will be played at Old Oaks Country Club and Century Country Club in Purchase, N.Y. The players will play 36 holes in the course of a day to determine who will make the 114th U.S. Open field.
Last year in Purchase, Matthews buried a wedge from just off the 18th green to finish his day with a 2-under-par 139. Unfortunately for the Dupont native, Gavin Hall, a 3-time New York junior amateur champion passed Matthews after birdies on his final four holes.
Matthew settled for first alternate after rounds of 72 at Old Oaks Country Club and 67 at Century. He played a few practice rounds there this past week, and he won’t soon forget that feeling from one year ago.
“It brought back some memories,” he said.
Matthews is coming off an outstanding 2013. He won 2013 player of the year honors in the Golf Association of Philadelphia after winning the Philadelphia Open, the Patterson Cup and the Silver Cross. He completed his summer by advancing to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur.
In Temple’s 12 tournaments this season, he won once and finished in the top four in seven other events. He shot par or better in 19 of his 32 rounds and led the Owls in stroke average at 71.5.
Some notables Matthews will be playing alongside some power players at this year’s sectionals. In the field will be Lee Janzen, the 1993 and 1998 U.S. Open champion. Also, 2014 NCAA Division 1 individual champion Cameron Wilson, will be playing. Other notables are: Web.com Tour winners Kevin Foley, Jon Curran, Jamie Lovemark (2007 USA Walker Cup Team) and Jim Herman; amateur Nathan Smith (four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion; three-time USA Walker Cup competitor); Michael McCoy (2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion).
“It’s awesome to see them there and know that I’m on the same stage,” Matthew said. “Just to be able to tee it up with those people is something I really relish and it’s something I love. I consider myself the most competitive person in the world. To get that opportunity brings out the best in me.”
The Sectionals are held at 10 sites across the United States. Make it through, and you’re in. Each sectional site has a pre-determined number of spots depending on the field. Some may have four or five; others more than 10.
Matthews qualified for last year’s Sectionals after being tied with the low score at the Country Club of Scranton with Honesdale’s Eric Williams. He was exempt from all local qualifying for this year’s event because of his finish at the U.S. Amateur Championships.
Matthews will tee off at 8:20 a.m. at Old Oaks, and then at 1:50 p.m. at Century. For his two rounds, Matthews will be paired with professional Stephen Shellock from Winter Park, Fla.
It’s 36 holes in about 10 hours. Out of 80 golfers, four qualifying spots are available. If Matthews earns a top-4 finish, he’ll be headed to Pinehurst No. 2, a course he has played once in the past.
“They call it the longest day in golf,” Matthews said. “It’s a very long, stressful day and you have to stay in it. You’re playing for a U.S Open. This is it. You have to take your time and treat every shot the same — really stay focused.”