Brandon Matthews desperately needed to make his putt. He and Ricardo Celia had finished the Open de Argentina (Argentine Open) in a tie, forcing extra holes. On the third playoff hole, Celia drained a 30-foot putt.
Matthews needed to make his to stay alive and extend the two-man playoff to a fourth hole.
Pressure? Absolutely. Not only was the tournament victory on the line, so was guaranteed entry in next year's Open Championship.
So he took a deep breath, settled himself, lined up the putt...
And, during his backswing, a fan yelled. Matthews, distracted, missed the putt.
"I got over the putt, took the putter back, and heard kind of a yelp or a scream," Matthews said. "At that stage, any minute noise resonates."
Matthews naturally assumed the fan had distracted him on purpose; galleries at the Open de Argentina tend to be considerate and respectful.
"I was obviously frustrated about it," he said. "I gave it a little too much right hand, missed it and turned around and said, 'Come on guys, seriously?!'"
Celia celebrated on the green.
Matthews stewed in the locker room... until Claudio Rivas, a PGA tour official, told him the fan who had yelled has Down Syndrome.
He hadn't tried to distract Matthews; he had just gotten excited.
Matthews's response? He wanted to meet the fan.
"I was around mental disability growing up, and I have a soft spot in my heart for it," Matthews said. "Those are really special people. I felt so terrible that I was even upset. I just wanted to make sure that he didn't feel bad."
Matthews spoke with the fan, gave him a signed golf ball and glove, and gave him a hug.
As Matthews said:
I gave him a hug and I asked him, "Hey, are you doing OK? Are you having fun?"
I just wanted to make sure he was enjoying himself, that he had no hard feelings, that he didn't feel bad about what happened. I didn't want to anyone to be mad at him. I didn't want him to be mad at himself. I wanted to make sure he knew that I wasn't mad. That's all I wanted to do.
There are some things in life that are just bigger than golf. And this was one of them.
As my Inc.com colleague Justin Bariso writes, emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and effectively manage emotions--your own, and those of others.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.
And to use that ability to not only help yourself, but to help others.
That's what Matthews did. In the moment, he couldn't control how he felt. He was frustrated and angry--and it showed.
But once he had context for what happened--once he understood what happened, and why... he used that knowledge to manage his emotions.
And to help the fan manage his own emotions, an often-forgotten component of emotional intelligence.
Emotionally intelligent people are socially aware. They're empathetic. They see things from another's perspective.
Even in the face of crushing disappointment, Matthews was concerned about how the fan felt. He couldn't control or change the result of the tournament--but he could control how he dealt with the result.
And Matthews could help the fan deal with his own feelings about what happened.
Managing your emotions. Making them work for you, not against you. Being empathetic enough to help others do the same.
If that's not emotionally intelligent... nothing is.