Why a pro golfer hugged a fan with Down syndrome whose outburst cost him the tournament

Anyone who has ever joined a game or a competition – whether it’s a board game, a swim meet, or a singing contest – knows that losing is difficult to swallow.

But what if you’re a championship contender, playing among the best in the world after years of hard work and training, and you lose the tournament because someone broke your concentration? That would understandably be beyond upsetting for any competitor.

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Unfortunately, professional golfer Brandon Matthews was in this exact situation at the 2019 Visa Open de Argentina in Buenos Aires. In a game that requires the utmost concentration, Matthews lost his chance to win the major tournament in a second.

While preparing to sink a crucial putt in a sudden playoff against Colombian Ricardo Celia, someone yelled and broke the silence among the crowd. Matthews flinched and he missed the shot.

The golfer was devastated. In addition to losing the championship title, Matthews had also lost his chance at an annual exemption into the British Open. “I thought someone had done it intentionally,” he said. “I was frustrated. Really I was in shock that that just happened.”

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Matthews thought that someone had intentionally yelled out, and considered it as an act of pure disrespect. He had instinctively reacted by motioning and glaring at the gallery, before stalking back to the locker room.

The crushed golfer was contemplating his loss when Claudio Rivas, the senior administration manager of PGA Tour Latinoamérica, came to apologize. Rivas explained that the poorly timed outburst was not an act of sabotage, and did not come from a heckler. In fact, a middle-aged man with Down syndrome had gotten so excited that he couldn’t help making a sound, unfortunately while Matthews was at play.

Hearing the news, Matthews’ demeanor immediately changed, and his frustration turned to sympathy for the fan. He felt terrible about his reaction, and asked Rivas for the chance to meet the man who had cost him a major golf tournament.

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Upon meeting the golf enthusiast named Juan, “I gave him a hug, and I asked him, ‘Hey, are you doing OK? Are you having fun?”’ Matthews said. “I just wanted to make sure he was enjoying himself, that he had no hard feelings, that he didn’t feel bad about what happened.” The golfer reassured Juan that he was fine, and signed a glove and a ball for him.

Matthews said the emotional moment was about “putting a smile on someone’s face and making an impact on someone’s life.” He said, “But the biggest thing for me in all of this is just hoping that people would do the same thing, you know? Because I didn’t think twice about it. That’s what I knew I had to do.”

“So I just hope that there’s many people out there that would do the same.”

He may have suffered defeat at the tournament, but Matthews’ actions are a win for inclusivity and acceptance. He related that he has a soft spot for fans like Juan. As a child growing up in a small town near Scranton, Pennsylvania, Matthews spent countless hours with his best friend whose sister has Down Syndrome. His mother also worked for a time as a manager of group homes for people with special needs.

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Matthews shared, “I grew up around people with mental disabilities ever since I was a little kid, so I know how special these people are. I knew how much of an impact on that person’s life a simple thing like I did could do, and seeing his reaction to me going up to him, and him just reaching out his arms and giving me a big hug with a smile — that really made my entire week, if not year, if not decade, if not life. It was one of those things that just brings a huge smile to your face, and you’re just glad that you can make somebody feel good like that.”

Despite having a tough golf year, Matthews rightly said, “Some things are bigger than golf. This was one of them.” He added, “Unfortunately it just wasn’t meant to be. You know, I’m still 25 years old, so there can be a lot of Opens in my future if it’s not going to be next year, and there’s a lot ahead that I have to look forward to and get excited for.”

Matthews is certainly a winner where it matters! He may have lost the tournament, but the golfer is a champion role model for kindness and empathy.

See the video below from Golf Channel for Matthew’s reaction at the tournament: