It’s been more than a few years since Matthew Wolff was a 14-year-old Westlake High sophomore in the gallery at Sherwood Country Club, rooting for Tiger Woods to prevail in a playoff at the Hero World Challenge.
The 21-year-old PGA Tour phenom will play alongside the 15-time major champion for the first time this week, fittingly at a course they both know so well.
Wolff and Woods will be joined by Xander Schauffele in a threesome Thursday and Friday during the first two rounds of the $8 million Zozo Championship at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks.
“I think it’s amazing that they’re having a PGA Tour event here again,” said Wolff on Wednesday, during a video call with media covering the event in Thousand Oaks.
“I’m just excited to not only play a course that I feel super comfortable on, but this is my first time playing with Tiger as well, so that’s going to be a lot of fun and I’m sure he knows the course very well.”
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Woods, who won the tournament last year in Japan, hosted his World Challenge event at Sherwood from 2000 to 2013.
Wolff was born in Simi Valley and grew up in nearby Agoura Hills.
He first played Sherwood as a budding teenage golfer and has since played the course “hundreds and hundreds of times,” finding time for rounds on visits home from college at Oklahoma State or since he turned pro last year.
“Every single time I come back and visit family here,” Wolff said.
The tournament was officially shifted from Japan last month due to COVID-19 concerns, as part of a reconfigured West Coast swing ahead of the rescheduled Masters.
Which is why the tournament will be held this week without fans, keeping local golf fans from what would have been a memorable attraction.
“I think playing with him,” Wolff said of Woods, “we would have drawn a really large crowd.”
Even without a gallery, Wolff is expecting to feel the love, at least from friends and family with country club connections.
“I know multiple, multiple people that live on the course here and have houses here, so I’m sure my family and my friends will probably be hopping house to house and try to catch me on certain holes and stuff,” Wolff said. “Even though there’s not going to be fans allowed, I’m sure they’ll try to find a way to come and watch me as much as they can.”
Meanwhile, Wolff will be watching Woods, attempting to glean something of value from one of the sport’s great champions.
“I just think how he kind of handles himself, the shots that he hits and the decisions that he makes,” Wolff said. “I think it’s going to be really cool … just to see greatness right in front of you is always something really special.”
The former national champion at Oklahoma State has wasted little time making himself comfortable on the PGA Tour, already amassing $5.6 million in earnings in 15 months despite the sport’s pandemic pause.
After finishing 35th in the FedEx Cup rankings as a rookie, Wolff has finished second in two of three starts on the PGA Tour this season.
He finished runner-up to Bryson DeChambeau at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot last month and tied for second at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas earlier this month.
“I gave myself two good opportunities to win the golf tournament and guess I just kind of got outplayed at the very end,” Wolff said.
After struggling last week at the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek, where he finished 73rd at 11-over par, Wolff has been hard at work this week with swing coach George Gankas.
“My alignment and my setup kind of got off and from there it was just a downhill spiral,” Wolff said. “Lucky for me, my coach, George, he lives 10 minutes away from here as well, so we worked really hard the first couple days and I feel like my game’s in a pretty good spot.
“Golf is crazy like that. You feel like you can be on top of the world and can’t miss a shot for two months and then very next day you come out and feel like you’re lost. You know, last week was just one of those weeks.”
A unique tour stop back home in Ventura County has been a welcome change for Wolff.
“I think seeing some family at the beginning of the week was really helpful to kind of, you know, just settle everything down,” Wolff said. “But, also at the same time, they understand that even though I’m back home and I need to spend time with them, I also need to prepare for this tournament.
“I’m still working. So they’re very good at making sure that I can balance both of those things and not asking too much of me, you know, off the golf course.”
He knows even a home-course advantage will be useless if he’s not on his game.
“I’m very comfortable with the golf course and I feel like even though I am comfortable, I still need to prepare,” Wolff said. “The rough is the longest I’ve seen it and I’ve played here hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times.
“(It’s) definitely a little different because I feel like most of the par 5s, if you hit it in the rough on a normal day, you can get to them still. But here, you’re going to just kind of have to hit it back in the fairway. It’s going to play a little different, but like I said, the lines off the tees, the comfort level that I have out here is I think a huge advantage.”
Joe Curley covers sports for The Star. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @vcsjoecurley.