When the men’s championship bracket for the 89th Southern Oregon Golf Championships came out Wednesday, Ashland native Matt Hedges couldn’t help but take a peek at where Mike Barry had landed.
Seeing that the four-time champion was on the opposite side of the draw, the 22-year-old Hedges couldn’t help but think about how fun it would be to square off against Barry in Monday’s championship final.
Turns out, it was pretty darn fun for Hedges.
After maneuvering his way to the final day with stellar play from tee to green, Hedges dialed it up even one notch better in his match against Barry to win going away, 10 and 9, and claim his first SOGC men’s championship title Monday.
Not bad for someone making their first appearance in the annual match play golf tournament at Rogue Valley Country Club.
“To come out and beat Mike was a lot of fun,” said Hedges, “but it’s not the way I thought this match was going to go, at least this easily. But he’s a great player and I told him I’ve looked up to him since I was in high school, and I still look up to him. He’s a great guy.”
The 31-year-old Barry was far from at his best throughout the tournament, and all those factors seemed to catch up to him during the scheduled 36-hole final.
“I just didn’t play good all tournament to be honest with you,” said Barry, who won the men’s championship in 2007, ‘08, ‘10 and ‘14 and most recently was runner-up in 2016. “I was sneaking by and ran into a buzzsaw today. Matt’s a great player and I didn’t have any answers for what he had. I couldn’t make any birdies today, and that’s what you’ve got to do in the finals.”
In contrast, Hedges was steady off the tee and dialed in from just about any distance on his approach shots to the green. Match that with a putter that was pretty favorable and the fifth-year senior golfer at California State University Monterey Bay was able to go 6 up through the first 18 holes and then comfortably close out Barry after halving the ninth hole of Round 2.
“I knew I was going to have to pull something out to even compete with him today after watching him yesterday,” said Barry, who joined Hedges in winning their semifinal matches on the 19th hole. “He was on his game and I wasn’t, and it was a pretty simple combination of that — and that led to the whooping. That’s how it goes. That’s golf and that’s match play, so not much you can do about that.”
Hedges figured it would be quite a test Monday with 36 holes — or possibly more given Barry’s potential — and tried to maintain a low profile and steady focus.
“I knew it was going to be more of a mental test than a physical test so from the first tee I just said let’s just put our head down and keep going, it doesn’t matter what the score is,” he said. “Whether I’m 4 up or 4 down, I said I’m just going to keep my head down and keep going.”
Turns out he never had to worry about the latter as he finished his morning round “about 2 under” to build a six-hole edge over Barry.
“I made quite a few putts in the morning, which really helped,” said Hedges, who graduated from Ashland High in 2014. “It gave me confidence and just kind of gave me momentum going into the afternoon.”
And let’s not sugarcoat it, Hedges was playing at the peak of his game all week at RVCC.
“I played well this week, very much so,” he admitted in almost embarrassed fashion. “I went through a pretty big swing change about a month ago and that has paid huge dividends.”
“One of my goals this week was just to be more comfortable on the golf course,” Hedges added. “Whether I’m playing well or not so well, I just want to keep calm and just kind of keep going and trust what I’ve been doing and that it will work out in the end.”
That strategy worked to perfection as he gradually closed out Barry during the afternoon round with a steady surge toward the inevitable as the former champion simply couldn’t muster the same shots tournament goers have become accustomed to seeing.
Hedges won four of the first five holes in Round 2 and eventually was 10 up through seven holes. With the match at dormie on the ninth hole, Hedges deftly chipped from the back edge of the green to within 2 feet of the cup to put the pressure on Barry to drain a downhill 20-footer to extend the match.
When Barry’s put crawled to the side of the cup, it was just a matter of stepping aside and letting Hedges have his moment as he calmly deposited his par putt to close out the match for the biggest win thus far in his golfing career.
Hedges previously placed second in the Class 5A state championships his junior year and was ninth as a sophomore and senior at Ashland High, where he was also an all-conference football player.
After securing all-conference honors during the 2016-17 season while playing 14 events for Division II Monterey Bay, Hedges didn’t play in any events last year but is now increasingly looking forward to closing his collegiate career in fine fashion. He missed his first week of school to play in the SOGC, which turned out pretty well for him, and now he hopes to take that momentum into the college season.
“It’s nice to see all the hard work getting paid off,” said Hedges.
“Now it’s time to go get beat up by my college teammates and humble me a little bit,” he added with a laugh. “I’m excited for the fall season.”