Winner: Matthew Wolff
When a mere sophomore wins college golf ’s biggest prize — the NCAA Championship — what does he do for an encore? For Matthew Wolff, so recently a sophomore star at Oklahoma State University, the answer was simple. Just go out and win one of those PGA Tour tournaments.
In July, just weeks after winning the NCAA title, Wolff was playing in only his third tournament as a pro. He had tied for 80th in the first, missed the cut in the second. This was the tour’s inaugural 3M Open at the TPC Twin Cities. And “stunned disbelief ” would describe what gripped the golf world when the 20-year-old neophyte, playing on a sponsor’s exemption, won.
“I’ve been told I was born for moments like these,” Wolff said. “I live for moments like these.” But actually, some wizard behind a curtain had staged this show, because this neophyte’s victory was pure storybook.
Wolff started 69-67 and trailed by seven, then six strokes. He caught fire in the third round, running off nine birdies in 13 holes from No. 3 and rocketed to a nine-under 62 to tie at 15 under with another college whiz, Collin Morikawa (64), and Bryson DeChambeau (70), the former budding physicist from Southern Methodist University. Morikawa, a recent graduate of California-Berkeley, was playing in his fourth tour event. In the first three, he had tied for 14th, 35th and 36th.
The final round, with three tied for the lead at 15 under, in effect would be a three-man shootout. “And for me,” DeChambeau said, “I’m going to be aggressive tomorrow and attack.”
Said Morikawa: “We’re going to have to control our nerves, remember who we are…” And said Wolff, brimming with confidence: “These guys are really good, and I know I’m really good, so it’s going to be fun.” The fun started early. Morikawa quickly looked like the odd man out.
He fell four behind when he bogeyed the second and third, and Wolff and DeChambeau had two early birdies. Then Morikawa birdied No. 7 and they both bogeyed No. 9. They made the turn, and from there it was a mad dash to the finish.
DeChambeau, just ahead, birdied 10, 13 and 16, then eagled the par-five 18th off a 204-yard approach to six feet. He had a 66 and was the clubhouse leader at 264, 20 under. He was the target for Wolff and Morikawa in the final pairing just behind. And this led to the decisive showdown at the 18th: Morikawa caught fire and birdied 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16. Wolff birdied the 10th from 13 feet, 14 from nine and 15 from three. Both reached the 18th in two and were putting for eagle. Wolff was away, about 26 feet, from against the collar.
“I mean, I was shaking,” Wolff said. “And as soon as it dropped, tears started coming.” Wolff had a 65 and the lead at 21-under 263. Morikawa needed an eagle to tie. But his 23-footer missed just to the left and he could only birdie for a 66 and tie DeChambeau. Said Wolff: “And I’ve changed forever, I guess.”