Matthew Wolff’s golf game vibrated like a re-entering space capsule.
Three birdies on his first four holes. A bogey on his sixth (15th at Torrey Pines), a double bogey after a 2-foot miss on the next, and a bogey on the next. Then birdies in five of the next six. Then another double on his 16th
Matthew Wolff, the person, rode it out.
He’s been working on the version of himself that doesn’t grab a golf club. This survived the hairpin turns of his first round of the US Open and landed with a par 70.
Only one other player (Mike Weir) had eight birdies in the first round of a US. Openly and never before has anyone accompanied eight birdies with two double boweys in a major. It was a stress test that Wolff would never have passed a month ago.
It was a decade of turbulence squeezed into nine months. Westlake Village’s Wolff was leading after 54 holes in the US Open last year, but Bryson DeChambeau sprinted past him on Sunday. Still, it was a runner-up after Wolff shot in the final round of the PGA 65.
He was 22 years old and had a PGA Tour win, far too young to have a midlife crisis. He and his tour classmates Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa were well on their way to a takeover. Hovland and Morikawa still are.
“If you shoot 78 college golf you’d go back and your coach would pay for your food and you’d chill out because you had a full scholarship, you know what I mean? said Wolff, who was once the best college player in America in the state of Oklahoma. “If you get out of here, you’ll miss five cuts in a row and think, ‘Damn it, I didn’t make a paycheck.’
“Aren’t they saying that when you’re around 25, the brain develops? I’m still only 22. ”
This is Wolff’s first competition since his disqualification at the Masters, before that he retired from two others. At the WGC event in Bradenton, Fla., He shot 83 and shot on the first round. Play partner Shane Lowry had to ask him to stop running while he tried to putt.
In November, when Wolff finished second in Las Vegas, he was 12th in the world rankings. He arrived at the 33rd Open. He said the only reason he was playing was because “I think if I shoot 78 there will be a lot of others who will too. I won’t stand out that much. ”
When he made the 13th, his fourth, birdy, he turned to his caddy Nick Heinen and said, “Dude, I’m just three under par.”
“I know,” replied Heinen.
When the bogeymen arrived, Wolff told them to leave his cloud.
“It’s just so important to be happy and have a great life,” he said. “I had to go back and say, ‘Dude, you live an amazing life.’ I was just happy to be smiling and laughing out there. It’s hard to do that when there’s so much pressure and people and eyes are watching you and all. ”
Earlier this week he told Golf Digest that his quest for perfection and his own longing to please have haunted him.
“I want people to stand up for me, I want to make people happy,” he said. “It became too much. I know I’m tough on myself, but I’m starting to see that this isn’t fair to me. I try to enjoy myself a little more. ”
The Open, at least not the way it was played on Thursday, isn’t such a strange place to get back on your horse. Wolff’s long game and talent for lifting high quality shots out of deep rough are well suited. He hit 13 of 18 greens.
“It’s playing shorter than I’ve ever seen,” said Patrick Rodgers of Torrey Pines South. “It’s fiery. The fairways play narrower because there is so much run out, but I am putting shorter clubs in these holes than I have ever hit. There are assessable moments out here. ”
Two-time champ Brooks Koepka looked as impressive as ever, turning two potential double bogeys into bogeys and shooting 2 under par 69. The knee that throbbed at the PGA last month when Koepka lost to Phil Mickelson seemed fine.
“I’ll come here with a game plan and stick to it,” he said. “I’m trying not to make it harder than it is. I think a lot of people probably do. ”
Matthew Wolff, the golfer, will happily welcome the day when it doesn’t seem so difficult. Matthew Wolff, the person, saw this outline on Thursday.