Ever since Arnold Palmer passed away in 2016, the Arnold Palmer Invitational keeps thinking up new ways to keep his memory alive and well at the annual PGA Tour gathering at his Orlando golf club, Bay Hill Club & Lodge. Well, Palmer certainly would have approved of the tournament offering a sponsor’s exemption to Brandon Matthews, who will make his PGA Tour debut at the API in March.
“Words can’t describe how grateful I am for this opportunity,” Matthews tweeted. “I cannot wait to tee it up next week!”
Matthews, 25, and a Pennsylvania native like Palmer, lost the 2019 Visa Open de Argentina title in a playoff after a fan with Down syndrome made a loud noise, distracting him as he attempted a 12-foot putt to extend the playoff to a fourth hole.
“I kind of gave it a little too much right-hand and left it short left. I turned around because I was disappointed at first because I thought someone did it on purpose,” Matthews explained in a video interview posted on the Arnold Palmer Invitational Twitter feed on Thursday. “Once I finally understood it was a middle-aged man with special needs that changed the whole thing because obviously he didn’t mean to do that.”
In a wonderful gesture of grace in defeat, Matthews left the locker room and went and found the fan to give him a hug and sign a golf ball and a glove for him.
“I just wanted to make sure he was all right and it was really important to me to make sure that he was a fan of golf for life and it didn’t leave a bad taste in his mouth and all that,” Matthews said.
“There are some things in life that are just bigger than golf,” Matthews told PGA Tour.com, “and this was one of them.”
Now, Matthews, who has played in three Korn Ferry Tour events this season with a best result of T-38 at the Bahamas Great Abaco Classic, is going to make his Tour debut at Arnie’s Place.
“To get an exemption into this tournament is really special, especially since this is Mr. Palmer’s tournament,” Matthews said. “To be recognized in any light with him is special and any way that I can make people’s lives better, the game better, I’m proud to be a part of that.”