By Dave Shedloski
BLAINE, Minn. — Fulfilling one’s promise requires a certain gestation period, although everybody is different. Not everyone navigates the same learning curve. Some are notably and perhaps surprisingly shorter than others.
Matthew Wolff didn’t even arrive at a bend. He just barrelled through it. Straight to a victory.
As the world’s top amateur and coming off a six-win collegiate season that included the NCAA individual title, Wolff had the makings of a player to be reckoned with someday on the professional circuit. In just his third start as a professional and fourth start in a PGA Tour event, he already has become that guy. With remarkable poise that belied his age, Wolff drilled a 26-foot, gut-check eagle on the 72nd hole at TPC Twin Cities to outduel fellow All-American standout Collin Morikawa and World No. 8 Bryson DeChambeau, and capture the inaugural 3M Open.
AMAZING! 🏆@Matthew_Wolff5 makes EAGLE to win! 🦅
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 7, 2019
At the age of 20 years, 2 months, 23 days, Wolff is the youngest tour winner since Jordan Spieth, who was not yet 20 when he won the 2013 John Deere Classic. Wolff joined Ben Crenshaw and Tiger Woods as the only men to win the NCAA individual title and a tour event in the same year.
“It still hasn’t settled in. It’s just a dream come true. It’s life-changing,” said Wolff, who is among four men to win in the third-fewest tour starts.
A native of Agoura Hills, Calif., Wolff finished at 21-under 263 thanks to a closing 65, one stroke ahead of Morikawa and DeChambeau, who each shot final-round 66s.
There have been more emotional wins on the PGA Tour this year—Nate Lashley’s magnificent triumph a week earlier at the Rocket Mortgage Classic comes to mind immediately. And there have been more inspirational wins in 2019—Woods’ Masters victory resonates. But for pure entertainment value, the 3M Open will be hard to top, what with a remarkably abbreviated coming-of-age tale for a kid who can’t yet legally imbibe and with a display of sheer bulletproof audacity—not only by Wolff but also by runner-up Morikawa, who rallied furiously with seven birdies in his final 12 holes.
And we can’t exclude DeChambeau’s final-hole theatrics, sticking a 6-iron to six feet and draining an eagle that temporarily leap-frogged him ahead of the two kids playing on sponsor’s exemptions. DeChambeau is all of 25.
“Unbelievable to make that and win his first PGA Tour title,” DeChambeau said. “Hats off to him. He’s a great player and, obviously, a stud, so he belongs out here.”
Wolff, in all brazen honesty, never had any doubts about that. After winning the Jack Nicklaus Award and Fred Haskins Award given to the top collegiate golfer, Wolff toyed with the idea of remaining an amateur through the summer and playing for the U.S. in the Walker Cup in September. But then he figured—correctly as he just proved—that he should take the leap after accomplishing all he wanted in two years at Oklahoma State. That included not only registering a five-stroke victory for the NCAA individual title six weeks ago, but also sinking the winning putt for the Cowboys to capture the 2018 team championship.
“I believed I was ready, my game was ready, but that’s a big step going from amateur golf to playing for a living at such a young age,” he said. “There were a lot of things in my mind, but I figured winning a national championship, there’s no better time to go.”
OSU assistant coach Donnie Darr reminded him just how ready he was in a text Saturday night after Wolff joined Morikawa in Sunday’s final pairing—which in and of itself was rather remarkable. Wolff entered the final round as co-leader with Morikawa and DeChambeau, making him the youngest player ever to hold a 54-hole lead.
“He [Darr] was pretty much telling me, ‘You can do it. Your winning is no different at any level,’ ” Wolff said. “He kind of made a little stat. He said, ‘In the last six months, you probably won more than any single person in this field.’ That kind of hit me. I know how to seal the deal, and I live for moments like that putt or those clutch moments where you have to step up to the stage.”
“Who could have scripted having two of the youngest kids on tour battling for it,” Hollis Cavner, 3M Open executive director, said. “We called the tour and asked them had they ever seen this, with two sponsor’s exemptions in the final group, and they said there’s no way. And then the way it unfolded. Unbelievable.”
And unbelievable just kept occurring throughout a final round when at one point there were 14 players within two strokes. And with just five holes remaining for the final twosome, there were six players tied atop the leader board at 17 under: Wolff, DeChambeau, Adam Hadwin (who ended up fourth at 266), Wyndham Clark, Carlos Ortiz (who closed with a 64) and Morikawa.
A native of Los Angeles, Morikawa, 22, sputtered early with two bogeys and then found a scoring gear that showed his resiliency and earned him a fair level of respect as well. He, Wolff, Viktor Hovland, the 2018 U.S. Amateur champion who also played at Oklahoma State, and Justin Suh of USC, all were highly touted All-Americans when they turned professional after the NCAA championship. Suh has yet to find his stride, but Hovland had his second top-15 finish with a closing 65 at TPC Twin Cities.
Wolff and Morikawa, who have competed against each other since high school, already have proven that they can live up to the hype.
“Yeah, we did have a lot of hype,” Morikawa said, “but it’s cool to see us all playing well, kind of competing against each other and just going off on one another. That’s what we’ve been doing our entire lives pretty much. To keep that going out here is really cool.”
When Morikawa went off on his run, Wolff took it as a wake-up call and responded by playing his last five holes in four under par. “It definitely kicked me in the butt,” Wolff said.
Both watched from the fairway as DeChambeau rammed in his go-ahead eagle putt and pumped both arms downward emphatically. The two rookies responded with respective 5-iron approaches, Wolff from 224 yards—after a 306-yard 3-wood from the tee on the 573-yard par 5—and Morikawa from 202 yards that gave them their own eagle tries.
When Wolff canned his left-to-right putt from just off the fringe, he punched the air and gave his caddie Steve Lohmeyer a vicious high five. Lohmeyer, a former Kent State golfer, was on the bag for the first time, having taken over for another veteran caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, after Wolff finished T-80 in his debut at the Travelers Championship and then missed the cut at last week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic.
“I’m speechless. That kid has me in awe,” Lohmeyer said. “You know, we’ve seen this already with guys like Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. These guys come out here and they’re not scared. You know, we both read that last putt the same way, and I thought he was going to make it, and he showed what kind of player he is by doing it.”
Morikawa had a chance to force a playoff with a 23-footer, but the putt broke left at the end. Wolff responded with a tearful hug with Lohmeyer. He also hugged Morikawa, who settled for a decent consolation prize, now having enough FedEx Cup points in just four events to enjoy special temporary membership, meaning he is eligible for unlimited sponsor exemptions.
Wolff, of course, immediately becomes a tour member with a two-year exemption. Among the events for which he is eligible next year is the Masters, scheduled to end two days before his 21st birthday.
“He shot 30 on the back,” Wolff said admiringly of Morikawa. “With that eagle, I shot 31. It just shows the type of players we are. We love the pressure, we love that kind of … you just have to make this putt, you have to hit this shot. We live for that and we embrace it, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Next for both men is this week’s John Deere Classic. A berth in the Open Championship is available at TPC Deere Run. We’d call their chances, well, promising.