It’s that time of year again when college coaches hold their breath to see what kind of team they’ll have this spring. Right now, Arkansas has a college player of the year contender in Brooke Matthews. But she could be an LPGA member with a card by Christmas, which would amount to losing the star quarterback just before the bowl game.
Matthews, 23, cut the number last week to move up to the LPGA Q-Series in December, where 45 players will earn LPGA status. She flew direct from Florida to Mississippi to compete in The Ally for the Razorbacks for seven consecutive days of competition.
“It’s a win-win situation for me,” said Matthews, “that’s how I see it. Either I’ll come back to Arkansas, where I’m really happy, or I’ll live out my dream of professional golf. “
Matthews grew up with the LPGA playing almost literally in their backyard. Wendy Ward and Vicki Goetze-Ackerman stayed with their family when the tour first came to Rogers, Arkansas, and started their business on their home course, Pinnacle Country Club. Matthews was a dedicated gymnast at the time but said this week made a big impression.
“I really wanted to be out there,” she says. “I couldn’t understand why.”
By the age of 12, Matthews had given up gymnastics and started playing tournament golf, overtaking most children from the start. In Stage II of the Q-School, Matthews made a pair of Eagles on two par-5s in the third round and hit an 8-iron in one for her second stroke.
When she arrived in Arkansas as a freshman, Matthews’ swing speed was about 101 miles per hour. Now, as a senior in her fifth year, she is comfortable up to 107 but can increase it to 110/111 on TrackMan.
Even so, it would take a special blow to overtake a former team-mate Maria Fassi.
“I can happily admit that she would pass me,” Matthews said with a laugh.
To find out what to do next, Matthews can look at the blueprint of two former Razorbacks. Gaby Lopez left her senior year early to pursue the 2016 Olympics (where she finished 31st); Maria Fassi opted for postponement until after graduation, became a real star in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, and won the NCAA singles title last spring at home in Arkansas.
Matthews’ situation is different in that the pandemic cut its junior season short, staying for a fifth year. She will be getting her degree in Marketing in December and would have to start a new major when she comes back in the spring, which takes 12 hours.
Matthews won the first two events of the fall, shooting 63-64-64 at the Cougar Classic in South Carolina. Their grand total of 25 under 191 broke the NCAA’s previous 54-hole scoring record of 19.
Then she enjoyed consecutive events on home courses, made the Rogers cut at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, and then won the Blessings Intercollegiate on Arkansas’ Home Course.
Matthews knows LPGA street life is tough as far as it can be. Everything in college is booked by someone else, paid for by someone else, and organized by someone else. She just has to worry about getting the sheet music, keeping her playing in order, and showing up on time.
“You hold hands throughout your studies,” said Matthews, “which I probably take for granted more than I realized.”
Arkansas legend Stacy Lewis has given Matthews some advice and finds the amateur’s prospect refreshing. Lewis remembers himself that Matthews has slowly worked his way up – cracked the Curtis Cup team this year – and is only now starting to ask questions about touring life.
With Matthews scheduled to graduate by the end of the year, Lewis said her decision on whether or not to go pro should depend on how many events she faces early next year. If she finishes in the top 20 of the Q-Series and earns her full card, “it’s worth it,” said Lewis.
If she’s at number 45 on the list and won’t be attending many events until the summer, then maybe the best way to go is to stay in school and procrastinate.
“Can you make a schedule of the status you’re getting to keep improving?” Asked Lewis.
That is the question Matthews has to answer. And that can be hard to predict because it depends largely on the decisions of those higher on the priority list. Players who finished in the Q-Series top 45 in 2019 were placed 129 through 174 on the initial LPGA priority list. Most full-field events range from 120 to 140 players.
Should Matthews decide to postpone membership, she can accept LPGA membership at any time until July 1, 2022. Your position on the priority list would be maintained until that point.
If it lands outside the top 45, it will have full Symetra Tour status.
What an autumn season it was 🙌
◼️ Two team titles 🏆🏆
◼️ Two individual titles 🏆🏆
◼️ No. 1 National Ranking # ️⃣
◼️ 1️⃣9️⃣ laps under par
Just the beginning for this group, Y’all. #DoThePossible 🐗⛳️ pic.twitter.com/uCbuTwITMD
– Razorback Ladies Golf (@RazorbackWGolf) October 28, 2021
Head Coach Shauna Taylor knows that what’s best for Matthews isn’t always best for the Arkansas program. If she deserves a fully exempt card, Taylor Lewis agrees that Matthews should go pro.
“You have to capture the moment,” said Taylor.
However, it gets hazy when it comes to the conditional status.
Both the player and the coach agree that Matthews has improved the most during her time in Arkansas. Some of the choices she’d made at the Blessings to play outside of certain holes made Taylor glow with satisfaction.
Did Matthews play your last event as a razorback? That’s the strange thing about this time of year.
Nobody really knows.
ANNIKA Award: Final autumn watchlist for the 2021/22 season