Family, friends remember local golf legend

Published 12:07 am Friday, October 5, 2012

NATCHEZ — Tom Matthews was a fixture on golf courses across the Miss-Lou for years.

As golf pro at Duncan Park in the late 70s and early 80s, Matthews helped many young golfers get their start in the game, including Chandler Russ.

“When I was about 9 until about 14, my father would drop me off at Duncan Park every summer day, and Tom would bring me home at about dark-thirty every night,” Russ said. “We played a lot of golf together and had some great times.”

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Thursday evening at approximately 4 p.m. the Natchez golf community received bad news when it heard that Matthews died at University Medical Center in Jackson. He was 69.

Russ said Matthews was like a second father to him.

“He was a hell of a golfer, and a hell of a good person,” Russ said. “He was good to me my entire life through thick and thin.”

Matthews’ daughter Toni Kersh said Natchez was always home to her father.

“Even lying in the hospital bed, he kept saying he wanted to go home, and home has always been Natchez,” Kersh said. “The last thing on his mind was getting back to Natchez and of course playing golf.

“I always kidded him and told him, ‘Golf is your first wife.’”

Current Duncan Park golf pro Greg Brooking said Matthews was unmatched on the courses of the Miss-Lou for a long time.

“He was truly a phenomenal golfer,” Brooking said. “He was essentially unbeatable until Pete Powell practiced up to get to where he could play Tom.”

Russ remembered playing with Matthews one day and nearly seeing Tom achieve perfection twice.

The two were playing the second hole of the Duncan Park golf course back when it was just a nine-hole course.

“He made a hole-in-one (on the second hole) and then we got back to the 11th hole, and the tee was about 10 yards back, and he hit another shot that hung on the lip about a half-inch from the hole,

“I told him, ‘That would have been awesome — back-to-back.’ He said, ‘I hit that one fat.’

“He could do things back then with a golf ball that were incredible to watch,” Russ said.

Matthews also served as a football coach and teacher in both the Natchez Public School system and Brookhaven Public School system, Russ said.

He was serving as the Alcorn State University men’s and women’s golf coach when he fell on campus Sept. 10 and was air lifted to UMC for his injuries.

Matthews was taken to Jackson to repair a bone he broke during the fall, and Kersh said an X-ray revealed multiple tumors in his lungs, intestines, liver and bones.

“They said he seamed pretty bad off,” Russ said. “It was stage IV cancer already.”

Russ visited Matthews at UMC Wednesday night, and Russ said Matthews looked better than he had since he had been in the hospital fighting his battle with cancer. Kersh said the family were laughing and talking about golfing stories Wednesday night.

“He looked much better than the last time I saw him,” Russ said.

Despite Matthews wishing he could have spent his final days at home in Natchez, Kersh said it was a blessing for her and her brother, Thomas Matthews Jr., that he was in Jackson.

“I’m glad he ended up in Jackson where my brother and I are located,” she said. “We wouldn’t have been able to spend this last month being with him and seeing him every day.”

Russ and Matthews won many tournaments together, and Russ said Natchez golfers would always remember his ability to play the game.

“Back in his prime he could have played with some of the best golfers in the world,” Russ said. “You always wanted him on your side.”