SAN DIEGO – Matthew Wolff boldly returned to golf at Thursday’s US Open.
The 22-year-old has been missing from the PGA TOUR for two months as he tried to tackle some mental health issues that plague his mind, game, and life in general.
But the 2019 3M Open winner – and the 2020 US Open runner-up – bravely chose Torrey Pines and his tough trial as his return, despite shooting a 6-over-78 on the South Course before retiring at the Farmers Insurance Open in February .
This time Wolff put together a roller coaster 1-under 70 (the US Open play the course up to a par-71) that contained an incredible eight birdies and only four pars – the fewest pars in a below-average round in a US Open, as detailed statistics were conducted (1983). The previous highest US Open score for eight or more birdies in a round was 4 under.
Stepping aside as a professional athlete was a difficult decision for Wolff, but a wise decision beyond his tender years. As we learn more about mental health struggles, it has become apparent that knowing when to take a break can be critical to any hope of recovery.
Wolff says he knew something drastic was required when he hated every minute of playing at the Masters in April, where he was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. He had previously retired from two events during the tournament and hadn’t had a Top-25 since finishing runner-up at the US Open and Shriners Hospitals for Children Open last fall.
We often associate bravery and strength with physical performance. But you don’t have to do contact sports to show these qualities. Wolff was brave to put his psyche to the Torrey test. He was brave to fight the adversity in the middle of the round. And he was brave to face media control and speak out about his battles.
“Mental health is a really big problem,” said Wolff. “Every professional athlete has to deal with a lot more stress and pressure than most people and it kind of overwhelmed me … and I think I just put too much pressure on myself … but I’ve worked on it, I’ve learned and I think that’s all , what I can do.
“(The Masters) was pretty much the turning point … the whole time my head was bowed and I hated it. I just didn’t love being out there. The biggest thing I’m trying to do right now is have fun again and just really take care of myself. I love these fans and I want to play well for them, but right now I’m really trying to be happy and realize that I have a great life and want to enjoy it. “
As someone who wants to live a little less stressful, Wolff put his nerves to the test on Thursday when he hit his first tee on the 10. It was the kind of swing that could have broken him from the start, but he soon smiled afterwards instead a brilliant recovery shot at 22 feet and a converted birdie saw him on his way.
With further birdies at 12 and 13, Wolff was immediately back in the limelight and led the tournament. And then it got uncomfortable.
A bogey on the 15th hole was followed by a terrible double bogey on the 16th hole with a missed putt by a foot and another bogey on hole 17 got him over par and seemingly in trouble.
Wolff saw it as a sign. This was the moment to put into practice the methods he had worked on in his absence. The score was not in focus. His pleasure was. He took a few deep breaths, remembering how many others would love to be where he was, to make a living doing sports and, more importantly, loving the game.
“My caddy and I worked really hard to just stay in the headroom and focus on the shot in front of you and not the shot behind you,” said Wolff. “I’ll probably struggle with this for the rest of my career, learning how to deal with bad punches, but I’m young and I’m studying.”
With concentrated concentration, he screwed five of his next six holes – one bogey on top of the other – and once again found the top of the leaderboard. His second double bogey of the lap, however, would destroy momentum and result in the respectable 70, just three short of the pace of the morning wave.
“A lot of good, a lot of bad. I got off to a very strong start and did a couple of putts at the beginning of my lap and then stumbled a bit. But it’s the US Open, everyone will stumble, ”said Wolff.
“I did not expect that. It’s my first tournament back and it’s the toughest tournament golf has to offer. It was really nice to start like I did. It’s great that I played well, I’m excited, but no matter what I shot, it was just good to have fun and I haven’t had fun out here in a long time.
“I’ve taken a big step in the right direction and still have a long way to go, but I’m working towards it.”