Bedwell Wins Brainerd Invitational by 3 Over Mathis
The Brainerd Invitational seemed all over but the trophy presentation as the final group made its way to the 10th tee on Sunday.
Defending champion Matt Mathis, on the strength of a 2-under-par 34 on the front nine, led by three strokes over 19-year-old Lee University freshman Sam Bedwell, who had followed his first-round 66 on Saturday with a 39. Mathis had grown up on the Brainerd course and knows every blade of grass on the place. Yes, this one looked like a done deal.
Even a three-putt bogey at No. 10 didn’t seem to impact what seemed an inevitable Mathis victory. But the birdie Bedwell threw at Mathis on No. 11 might have given the leader pause, considering his advantage was now down to a scant stroke. And when Mathis three-putted again, at No. 12, the battle was on.
Actually, the final few holes weren’t much of a battle. Bedwell, fully recovered from four front-nine bogeys, shot 32 on the back en route to a 71, giving him a two-day total of 137, three shots ahead of Mathis, who closed with a 72. Another shot back was Todd Moreland. UTC senior Tyler Neff closed with a 73 for a 142 and a fourth-place finish, and five-time champion Richard Keene ended up fifth at 144.
Sunday’s principal combatants had differing opinions on how the final nine turned in Bedwell’s favor. For Mathis, the turning point was the first three holes that included a pair of three-putts.
“I guess I could be mad at my putter,” Mathis said. “But the trick is to hit the ball closer than 40 or 50 feet. That’s what I left myself on 10 and 12, and I three-putted both times. Sam birdied No. 11, and that’s pretty much where the match turned.”
Though Bedwell took the lead with a birdie at the par-5 13th, lifting him to 5-under, he thought the turning point of the tournament came one hole later. Both Mathis and Bedwell missed the green to the left, short-siding themselves and leaving a delicate pitch. Both executed the shot, leaving themselves with five-foot par putts. Mathis missed for his third bogey in five holes, and Bedwell calmly rolled his ball into the middle of the cup.
Now Bedwell led by two shots, and after a birdie at No. 15 boosted his lead to three, Bedwell coasted home. But he didn’t back off; his approach at the par-5 18th was aimed right at the flag and ended up 20 feet from the hole for eagle. His two-putt birdie left him at 7-under for the tournament.
“This is great,” Bedwell said. “I just came out here to play golf and have fun. I wasn’t thinking about winning the tournament.”
The win comes at a good time for Bedwell, who will join his Lee teammates at the NAIA National Tournament in Indiana on May 16, further bolstering the confidence he gained at the XIII Regional championships last month. In that tournament, he shot a final-round 69 to help Lee secure its fifth straight visit to the nationals and finish fourth individually.
A bold decision after the first round of the regionals drastically altered Bedwell‘s fortunes. He shot 76 in the first round despite striking the ball solidly. “I’d gotten the yips and couldn’t make a thing on the greens,” he said.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Deciding he had nothing to lose, Bedwell went to a cross-handed putting grip.
“Literally the first time I ever tried it was when I was on the putting green before my second round,” Bedwell said.
He shot 72, and the next day he turned in that final-round 69. “And I hit the ball better the first round than I did the last two rounds,” he said. “The putter really came around after I went left hand low.”
From the looks of things at Brainerd, his putting prowess hasn’t gone anywhere. His par putt at No. 14 was as solid as it comes. Likewise his short birdie putt at No. 15 and another tricky five-footer for par at the par-3 17th.
“It’s nice not to have to worry about anything [on the greens] now,” Bedwell said. “I’m just concentrating on rolling the ball into the hole. That’s what the new grip has done for me. I start the stroke with my shoulders now. It’s made things a lot easier.”