Matthew Wolff claims he isn’t trying to win a golf event this week, despite the fact that he might.
Wolff started the Wells Fargo Championship on Thursday with a 5-under 65, a welcome sign of improvement for the former phenom.
Wolff hasn’t finished inside the top 60 on the PGA Tour this year and has slid outside the top 50 in the world rankings, despite a strong finish to his fall schedule. Wolff said he “lost every ball I had in my bag” a few days ago at his home course and went into the week at TPC Potomac with no expectations. He shot his best score on Tour in seven months on Thursday.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said.
Wolff, 23, has been candid about his mental health issues in the last year. He reflected on the more difficult aspects of his journey after the first round outside of D.C., including how being lumped in with fellow class of 2019ers Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland created expectations and pressure that he wasn’t ready to handle, and how his glum on-course demeanor has affected his fellow playing competitors.
Wolff had a smooth path to success, winning the NCAA individual title in 2019 to help launch his career. He was a PGA Tour champion within a few months, defeating Morikawa down the stretch to win the 3M Open. He was the 54-hole leader at the 2020 U.S. Open a year later until losing to Bryson DeChambeau.
But, while his ballyhooed contemporaries stepped into the spotlight, there have been few bright spots since. Morikawa won two major championships. Hovland won numerous titles and entered the world’s top five. Those two players were older and more mature than Wolff, who started pro at the age of 20 and was one of the Tour’s youngest members. Morikawa graduated and is 25; Hovland spent three years in school and will turn 25 in September.
“It’s difficult because in my down times, I’ve had to do it in front of everyone,” he explained. “I know there are some eyeballs in college, but if you have rough periods in college or the mini-tours or the Korn Ferry Tour, which is probably where I’d be right now if I hadn’t become pro, it’s a bit easier to overcome that because you don’t feel like you’re entirely in the spotlight,” she says.
He said, “I don’t regret what I’ve done.” “I believe everything worked out as it should, and I know I’m going to be better and happier as a result of everything that happened.” But, at the end of the day, I’m just trying to be a better player for my teammates, as well as myself.”
That is, indeed, a continuing process for Wolff, who admitted to being embarrassed by some of his on-course behavior as he battled his way out of his funk.
“It’s occurred a couple of times, and I wish I could go back in time and undo it,” he remarked. “I never want to have an impact on anyone else, and I was clearly having an impact on myself.” When you’re playing with someone like that, it’s difficult to perform well. It’s unacceptable if I let it influence someone else. It’s all been about learning new things and growing and maturing a little bit. I’m trying to be a better person for them and for myself.”
Wolff carded his lowest score since the final round at Mayakoba in November on Thursday at the Wells Fargo, and he was having a good time doing it with playing companions C.T. Pan and Luke List. Wolff completed the day two back after sharing the lead among the early starters at TPC Potomac.
“I know I’ve battled,” he admitted, “but I also know that everyone on the planet would gladly switch places with me, so I need to start learning to enjoy myself and appreciate how fortunate I am.”
A reporter inquired about how the poor first-round score affected his expectations for the remainder of the week, particularly after what he described as an unpleasant week of preparation.
He said, “Absolutely nothing.” “I can go out tomorrow and shoot 90, and as long as I keep a positive mentality, I can put a checkmark on this week and say that I’ve evolved as a person and a player, and that’s all I really care about right now.”
“It’s funny, to be honest, because I’m not here to win a golf tournament — I’m here to have fun.”