Matthew Brandyn Wolff went into the final day of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot nine months ago, leading by two strokes following the joint lowest round of the tournament on Saturday. Despite shooting a five-under-par score of 65, Wolff’s game collapsed on Sunday, and a final round of 76 (five-over-par) saw him ultimately finish in second place, six shots behind the eventual winner Bryson DeChambeau.
The previous month, the then 21-year old finished tied fourth after a final round 65 (five under par) in his first major championship at the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park.
Since good showings in those initial majors, things have worsened for the young millionaire. Wolff has plummeted from 10th in the world rankings to 32nd and hasn’t had a top-35 finish since. He was also disqualified from the Masters after signing an incorrect scorecard.
See also: Profile: Bryson DeChambeau – The Rising Star of Golf
Wolff’s Return to Golf
This week’s U.S. Open was Wolff’s first start in two months after choosing to step away from the game entirely to ‘work on himself.’
It’s no exaggeration to say it has been a wretched year so far for the kid superstar with the unusual swing from Simi Valley, CA.
It all started so well when the then 19-year-old was victorious at the 3M Open at Twin Cities in Blaine, Minnesota, on July 7th, 2019. A six-under-par final round contributed to a 21-under par total and a one-stroke victory over Bryson DeChambeau and Collin Morikawa. DeChambeau was one group ahead of Wolff and Morikawa but one shot behind both the leaders as they set to tee off on the final hole. DeChambeau hit an Eagle on the 18th, however, to leapfrog both and take the lead. Wolff sealed the victory, however, matching Bryson’s eagle with an incredible 26-foot eagle of his own from the edge of the green.
Not only did the triumph mean Wolff banked $1.152 million in prize money, but more importantly, it ensured a two-year PGA Tour exemption. Matthew Wolff joined Tiger Woods and Ben Crenshaw as the third player to win a PGA Tour event and NCAA title in the same year.
Wolff had only turned professional the previous month and made his tour debut at the Travellers Championship.
Wolff’s Break From the Game
Back in February this year, Wolff capitulated out of the WGC-Workday Championship at the Concession following a disastrous opening round 83 followed by an unexplained withdrawal. Did the young superstar who should have been enjoying a college experience and graduation experience too much fame too soon? Have his critics been right all along about his funky swing with the left leg kick that he originally picked up from playing baseball and which uses the ground to generate power, not being able to maintain consistency? Or is the young extrovert just struggling to handle the COVID era isolation?
Speaking to the media this week for the first time since January, Wolff indicated he knew that taking the break that he had, had been the right decision.
“As much as I want to please everyone and be here for the fans and play well,” he said, “at the end of the day, I just want to be happy.”
“It’s just life,” he went on to say, “Stuff doesn’t go your way, and you get down on yourself. When you’re out here, it’s hotel rooms and travelling, and there’s no separation between golf and life. Golf is life when you’re out there. When things aren’t going your way, it’s hard to put things in perspective. But you’ve just gotta be happy. If you’re not enjoying yourself and if you’re not happy, it doesn’t matter how much money you’re making or what you do; it’s probably not worth doing. So I’m just trying to find what makes me happy.”
Wolff’s return to competitive play this week has been driven and motivated by other athletes who have come forward in recent times and publicly address the importance of self-care and the importance of mental health. This battle isn’t Matthew Wolff’s alone to fight.
“We’re not puppets. We’re not owned,” Wolff said. “We’re still people. We have feelings, and stuff isn’t always easy for us. I’m happy to be out here. I have the people I want out there, and I’m looking for a good week.”
If Wolff does shoot some high scores this week, it’s almost certain he won’t be alone. There will be nowhere to hide at Torrey Pines in his native southern California, but it is a course he knows well, and it’s a course that suits his play. His wedge and iron play has always been an enormous strength, and they will most certainly be a significant factor on this stunning course. The longer he stayed away, the harder it was going to be to return. This tournament, on this course, is as good a time as any for his return.
“I just felt like, if you put it off, it’s gonna keep getting worse,” he said. “I’m not doing it because I have to. I just feel like you need failure to have success. I’ve had failure, but I’m starting to learn and mature and get better, and I realized I need to be out here and play my way through it.”
On his day, Matthew Wolff looks like one of the best players in the world, a player who certainly looks good enough to win a U.S. Open.