Former Temple golfer in the swing of Latin American tour

Canuelas Golf Club-11042017-0002
Brandon Matthews watches his shot during the final round of the Latinoamerica Molino Canuelas championship on March 12, 2017 in Buenos Aires.

After growing up in the small northeastern Pennsylvania town of Dupont, Brandon Matthews made a smooth adjustment attending Temple and playing golf there. But nothing off the course prepared him for his first post-graduation career move that he says has been "pretty amazing."

Matthews, 22, is competing professionally on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica. Since qualifying for the tour in Mexico, he has played in Colombia, Argentina, Guatemala, and Honduras. Matthews does not speak Spanish, and for him the language barrier has been "one of the hardest things in the world."

Golf, however, is a different story.

Matthews, who tied a Temple record with eight individual titles and made honorable mention all-America in 2015, won in just his second start, capturing last month's Molino Canuelas Championship in Buenos Aires to earn $31,500.

With the tour on a break until Thursday, Matthews leads its "order of merit" with $36,225 in three events. It has been a rewarding and educational experience thus far.

"I joke about it, that back in northeast Pennsylvania, a lot of people don't know what it's like outside the area, let along outside the country," Matthews said last week from Jupiter, Fla., where he is working on his game until the tour season resumes.

"So this is something I'm very fortunate to do," said Matthews, who turned pro in October. "I'm very privileged and very lucky to get the opportunities that I've gotten. I just go through it and enjoy it no matter what."

As for how he deals with the language, Matthews said friends help him.

"When I hear something, I'm like, 'OK, what did they say?' and they translate for me," he said. "It's like the way we look at someone in Philadelphia that doesn't speak English. That's me down there, the way they look at me. It's tough, but it's also comical at the same time. It's so cool. Seeing the world, seeing how different it is in some place, it's pretty amazing."

After qualifying in January for the Latin American tour, the long-hitting Matthews made his debut in Bogota, Colombia, and opened with a 9-under-par 62, "kind of like, 'Hello, here I am,' " he said with a laugh. He finished ninth.

Then came his breakthrough win in Buenos Aires, where he grabbed the 54-hole lead after a 7-under 65 gave him a 3-shot cushion. He double-bogeyed his third hole of the final round and followed with a bogey but played 2-under-par golf the rest of the way, making a number of clutch putts.

"I've had experiences through the years in amateur golf when I was around the lead or in the lead and ended up winning tournaments," he said. "Sometimes I didn't win them. But there I just drew on past experiences. I basically knew that I needed to play my game and continue to do what I was doing.

"I made one bad swing the whole day [leading to the double bogey]. Some people said I didn't play as well as I had been playing and just hung in there, but I thought it was one of my best rounds of the week. It was super windy. There weren't many low scores."

With challengers closing in on him, Matthews saved par with putts of six feet on No. 15 and 10 feet on No. 16. He closed matters with a two-putt par on the 18th to win by a stroke and become the youngest American to win on the Latin American tour.

"I stayed patient," he said. "I was really proud of myself the way I closed the deal. The whole day was a great experience. Obviously, I was very fortunate to win, but it was a great position to be in and I enjoyed every second of it."

The next event begins Thursday in Cordoba, Argentina. The tour then goes to Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica before taking a break of a little more than two months and resuming in late August.

The top five players at season's end in early December earn playing privileges on the 2018 Web.com Tour, one step away from the PGA Tour. The top 10 qualify for the Web.com Tour qualifying tournament.

Until then, Matthews is enjoying the ride.

"I have a lot of good things going for me right now," he said. "I'm very, very excited about what's ahead. I just take it one step at a time and look around and realize where I'm at and just how lucky I am."

jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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