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Matthew Vital said he felt pretty good when he teed off Saturday at Reading Country Club for the weekly Philadelphia Section PGA Junior Tour event, and figured he had carded a low round when he sank a 6-foot birdie putt at No. 18.
But it was more than just a low round. It was historic. The 15-year-old Vital, a sophomore at Bethlehem Liberty High School, had fired an 8-under-par 62 to break the course record of the iconic Sam Snead by one stroke.
“I found it pretty crazy,” Vital said Monday in a phone interview from his Bethlehem home. “It’s hard to believe because that course didn’t play easy. So it really means a lot that I can break Sam Snead’s record.”
Vital shot a 31 on each side at Reading from the back tees, which measure 6,162 yards and plays to nines of 34-36. Derrick Sandritter, the club’s director of golf, said the tees “were tipped out all the way back” as they were in the 1949 Reading Open, the professional tournament in which Snead carded his 63.
Sandritter described the tree-lined course, built in 1923, as “very old-school in terms of small greens, tight fairways, undulating greens, a shotmaker’s course for sure.”
“It’s definitely not a grip-it-and-rip-it type of course,” he said. “You’ve got to strategically plot your way around. The first time [Vital] saw this place, and he shoots that. That just goes to show how talented he is.”
Out watching his son, Gus Vital noticed how calm and focused Matthew stayed during the round. That didn’t calm his own nerves, however, noting that it seemed like it took forever to finish because he wanted nothing bad to happen to Matthew’s special round.
When it ended, he received word from the tournament director that his son had broken Snead’s record.
“I was excited for him, and I thought, ‘Wow. That’s a great job,’ and I gave him a hug,” Vital said. “For him it was like, ‘OK. Good.’ I didn’t see him jumping up and down, and I’m like, ‘Did you know what you just did there?’ ”
Matthew Vital birdied five of his first 11 holes before running into his only bogey of the day with a long 3-putt at No. 12. After a par at 13, he birdied four of his last five holes, and stayed about as composed as one seeking to break the record of a golf legend could be.
“I tried to slow down,” he said, “because when you get happy about how you’re doing, your adrenaline starts to kick up, and then you start to hit the ball further, and it’s really hard to control your game from that point. So I just tried to slow down and stay calm.”
Snead, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, died in 2002 four days before his 90th birthday. He is tied with Tiger Woods for the most PGA Tour victories, 82.
Born in Haiti, Gus Vital started Matthew and his twin brother, Michael, on plastic golf clubs when “they were 2 going on 3.” He started much later, taking up the game after college, and was hooked.
“A lot of friends of mine were playing, and I started playing, and I enjoyed it so much,” he said. “I said, ‘My kids are definitely going to be learning golf.’ It’s a great time. You spend so much time with them, four or five hours, and you’re having a good time. Right? No other sport provides you that.”
He said his sons’ practices improved after he joined Northampton Country Club in Easton, where they were able to practice for longer stretches than at their local public course. Matthew’s best round at Northampton is a 66, his career best score until Saturday.
Matthew Vital also has an impressive national victory on his resume, having won the 12-13-year-old division of the 2019 Drive, Chip and Putt national finals at Augusta National Golf Club the Sunday before the Masters.
Now, he has his name linked with one of golf’s all-time legends.
“I’ve been doing pretty good this year,” Vital said. “I was tightening up my swing and doing minor tweaks in the winter and now seeing the results. I was feeling pretty good [Saturday]. I didn’t think I would shoot 62, of course. But I thought I was going to play a good round.”