Matthew Wolff didn’t win the Rocket Mortgage Classic, but it may be remembered as an early turning point in his development as a champion golfer.
Wolff, 21, held a three-stroke overnight lead in his bid to become the youngest two-time winner on the PGA Tour since Tiger Woods. He would’ve been three months younger than Sergio Garcia and five months younger than Jordan Spieth when they won their second Tour titles. Heady stuff, and maybe it had something to do with his shaky start. Wolff drove into trouble on the first hole, made bogey and his lead was gone by the time eventual winner Bryson DeChambeau made birdie at the sixth hole.
Wolff struggled to five bogeys in his first 10 holes, missing greens, fluffing a chip at the sixth hole, barely advanced his ball from a fairway bunker at the 10th hole and was 3-over par through his first 10 holes.
A year ago this week, Wolff won in just his fourth Tour start as a professional at the 3M Open, making eagle at the last hole to vault past DeChambeau for the title. Expectations for Wolff to be one of the next stars of the game, which were already big, only grew bigger. But he hadn’t sniffed a leaderboard since and his lack of experience in the trophy hunt on Sunday showed.
“Absolutely,” Wolff conceded. “There was a little bit of rust at the start.”
DeChambeau smelled blood and took advantage, sprinting to a three-stroke lead before Wolff did his best to fight back, making birdie on four of his last seven holes to make DeChambeau earn the title down the stretch.
There are two ways to look at Wolff’s week: Either he blew it, tying the Tour’s largest lead lost entering the final round this season, or he’ll learn from the experience while recording his first top-10 finish in the past year. Wolff chose the latter.
“I feel like I’m going to be in that position a lot more in the future,” he said. “The only thing you can do is learn from this experience and feel more and more comfortable the more times you’re in that position, so next time I’ll feel more comfortable and the time after that I’ll feel even more comfortable.”
With a pair of 64s on Friday and Saturday, Wolff displayed his firepower and ability to rattle off birdies. With grit and resiliency, he rallied to shoot 1-under 71, and finished 20-under 268, alone in second three strokes behind DeChambeau.
Wolff found his rhythm in his funky swing on the second nine except his putter, which had been leading the field in Strokes Gained: Putting through 54 holes, happened to pick a bad time to go cold. He could’ve cut into DeChambeau’s lead at 14, but burned the left edge on his 8-foot birdie putt, and his 14-foot eagle putt at 17 hung on the lip.
“I feel like I hit a couple putts out there that I really didn’t feel like I pulled them or pushed them or anything, they just didn’t go in,” he said. “I misread them or they hit some bumps or stuff like that.”
Wolff emphasized a carefree attitude this week that paid quick dividends; rather than be deflated over his failure to validate his early success, Wolff preferred to focus on what he gained in the process.
“It’s something I’ll learn from and I’m not looking at any negatives this week,” he said. “Bryson played great; 7 under, you know. It’s not like I gave it to him, he definitely earned it. Kudos to him.”