Brandon Matthews couldn't believe the feeling. The Temple star holed out a 15-yard flop shot for par on the final hole of Monday's U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Purchase, N.Y., and thought he had won the big prize.
"At that point, I absolutely thought I was in the U.S. Open," said the 18-year-old Matthews, who will be a sophomore in September. "The only thought in my head was that I'll be playing next week at Merion."
But one contestant on the course at Century Country Club had a chance to catch Matthews. And not only did Gavin Hall, a three-time New York junior amateur champion, catch Matthews, he passed him with birdies on his final four holes.
Matthews, of Dupont, Pa., settled for first alternate after rounds of 72 at Old Oaks Country Club and 67 at Century for a 2-under-par 139. He said he will be able to hit practice balls and chip and putt next week at Merion Golf Club while hopefully getting the call to replace a starter in the U.S. Open.
According to a U.S. Golf Association spokesman, alternates are put into two groups. If an exempt player withdraws from the Open, his replacement comes from the sectional deemed by the USGA to have been the toughest. If a qualifier leaves the field, his successor is an alternate from the same sectional.
Matthews, the Atlantic Ten Conference rookie of the year, called Monday's two rounds "a phenomenal experience."
He caught fire at Century, where he went 5-under par (three birdies and an eagle) on holes six through 10. He capped the day with the hole-out with a 58-degree wedge, calling it "the greatest shot I've ever hit in my life."
Matthews said he can't wait to get to Merion and practice "with some of the greatest players in the game, and learn from them."
Former Temple star Geoffrey Sisk finished in a three-way tie for first at Purchase to qualify for his seventh U.S. Open.
West Chester's Sean O'Hair wasn't too upset with the way he played, shooting 6 under in the loaded sectional qualifier in Westerville, Ohio, outside Columbus. But he needed 8 under to get into a playoff for spots in the Open being played nearly in his backyard.
"Am I disappointed? Absolutely," O'Hair said. "But what else can I do? I felt like I played a couple of good rounds, just not good enough. That's all there is to it. It is what it is. It's the result of a couple of years of bad playing."
O'Hair, who carded 10 birdies on the day, made a run in the afternoon at the Lakes Golf and Country Club, playing the front nine in 5 under to get to 7 under. But he went bogey-double bogey on 10 and 11 and his momentum stopped.
"I think in the 36 holes I had one bad swing and one mis-hit putt," he said. "So when I look at the big scheme over 36 holes, I can't get upset. That just happens."