Wolff back to work at John Deere as wild ride continues
Breakthrough win sent ripples from TPC Twin Cities to TPC Deere Run
July 10, 2019
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Inside the PGA TOUR
Matthew Wolff makes PGA TOUR history with victory at 3M Open
SILVIS, Ill. – The TV cameras had moved on, the lights turned off, and Matthew Wolff, who had just won the 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities, piled into a hired van with his friend, roommate and personal assistant, Cole Spradlin, to be driven six hours south to the next event on the PGA TOUR’s Midwest Swing, the John Deere Classic. It was around 8 p.m. Sunday.
In front of his mother, brother, manager, best friend, and the world, Wolff had just delivered on a whole lot of potential, the numbers on his scorecards speaking even louder than the hype around his herky-jerky, over-the-top, sui generis swing. An eagle at the last. A 62-65 weekend. Victory.
“I took a shower, got on the van about 8,” Wolff said, “and responded to about 200 text messages and had about 500 left.” He smiled. “It was non-stop.”
Wolff, 20, had become the youngest PGA TOUR winner since Jordan Spieth, then 19, at the 2013 John Deere. With no TOUR status to start the week in Minnesota, Wolff was now exempt through the 2020-’21 season. He had qualified for the FedExCup Playoffs, World Golf Championships, Sentry Tournament of Champions, and, oh, yeah, the Masters Tournament.
Everything had changed.
Said Spradlin of their time on the van, “I’d be on my phone, and he’d be on his, and he’d look up and say, ‘I just won a PGA TOUR event.’ I’d laugh and say, ‘Yeah, you did.’”
In one sense, a TOUR win is a TOUR win. But in another, some simply resonate louder and further across the sports landscape than others. Count Wolff’s 3M victory among the latter. He had won in fewer TOUR starts than Tiger Woods, at an age that recalled Spieth. His coach, George Gankas, had been promising Wolff would be a disruptor, and now it was happening.
“I’ve been saying it since he was a sophomore in high school, he’s going to be the greatest player ever,” Gankas said when reached by phone Wednesday. “The only reason I would say something so stupid is I’ve never seen a kid who could repeat the same golf shot, with the same ball flight, so many times in a row. I was the second person he called. I told him, ‘Get some rest, but you’re not going to be able to because you’re going to be on this high the whole night.’”
Meanwhile, the shock waves of Wolff’s victory had already arrived in the Quad Cities.
“It changed the narrative,” said John Deere Tournament Director Clair Peterson. “We had held out hope that Jordan Spieth and Steve Stricker might come our way, but both of them right up until late Friday were trying to make their decision. Both of them decided not to for different reasons, and made personal calls to us and explained, so there was a bit of an aw shucks component going into the weekend.”
Then came not only Wolff at the 3M, but also Collin Morikawa, who tied for second, and Viktor Hovland, who finished T13. The three, plus Justin Suh, make up one of the most highly touted rookie classes in years, and all had committed to the Deere as sponsor exemptions.
Just like that, the Deere had one of the hottest players in the game, if not the hottest, plus others from his rookie class who would surprise exactly no one with a win this week.
“It got everyone here reengaged,” Peterson said.
John Deere has long had a commitment to young players, whether they play on the First Tee or are trying to establish a foothold on TOUR. It paid off when Spieth won here in 2013, and when Bryson DeChambeau won in 2017, and now it had paid off yet again.
Said longtime John Deere CEO Sam Allen, who was watching the end of the 3M in his study at home: “Now all of a sudden you’ve got this tremendous buzz, and the bookies have them in the top five to win.”
Wolff arrived in Davenport, Iowa, at about 2:30 a.m. Monday, and he and Spradlin piled out, bleary-eyed but still buzzing from the events at the 3M. In his hotel room, his coach’s words proved prophetic, as Wolff couldn’t seem to nod off.
“So I responded to texts,” he said. “It was a non-stop cycle.”
He not only made his pro-am time Monday, he also hit balls on the range next to Korea’s Ho Sung Choi, another pro with a zany swing. That night, Wolff and Spradlin watched the All-Star Game’s home run hitting contest, then crashed shortly after 10 p.m.
Tuesday morning, as Wolff dabbed on sunscreen in the locker room, he chatted with Hunter Mahan and Daniel Berger about where to practice and play – Wolff is joining the Medalist, but it’s not yet official – and the merits of living in Jupiter, Florida, versus Southern California.
Later, Wolff played the back nine with Cameron Tringale and former world No. 1 Luke Donald, and outdrove Donald by nearly 60 yards, and Tringale by about 30, on the 18th hole.
“He’s hitting some short clubs into a lot of these holes,” Donald said. “It’s a big advantage. It’s good to see his game up-close. There’s so many different ways to swing the club, as long as you square it up at impact and hit solid shots. He was world-class in college, and a lot of people had faith in his abilities, and to win as quickly as he did, it proved a lot of people right.”
TaylorMade went big on Wolff, signing him to one of the most decorated TOUR staffs in the game, and coach Gankas had said people would “lose their minds” at his star pupil. (Sung Kang, another Gankas disciple, became his first player to win on TOUR at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May.) Now, with Wolff’s performance at TPC Twin Cities, minds were being lost.
Wolff had become the third player (Ben Crenshaw, Tiger Woods) to win the NCAA individual title and a TOUR event in the same year. The native of Agoura Hills, California won in just his third professional start, after uninspired results at the Travelers Championship (MDF, T80) and Rocket Mortgage Classic (MC), and had gone from 1,659th in the world to 135th.
Was anyone surprised? Not Morikawa, who calls Wolff “an awesome kid.”
It was fitting for them to play together at the 3M on Sunday. They had battled as amateurs, and although this was a TOUR event, they slipped back into an easy familiarity. Wolff knew what to expect, and vice-versa. “I’m fine with talking,” Morikawa said, “whether a playing partner wants to talk or not talk, I don’t care. But Matt needs someone to talk.”
Meanwhile, the golf world continues to talk about Wolff. Per Justin Ray on Twitter, Wolff is the seventh player in the last 80 years to win on TOUR before turning 21. The other six have all won at least three majors: Tiger Woods (15), Seve Ballesteros (5), Phil Mickelson (5), Raymond Floyd (4), Rory McIlroy (4) and Jordan Spieth (3). Could Wolff be headed for such rare air?
“All things point toward that way,” Donald said.
Wolff said he and Spradlin have spent only three nights in their new place in Jupiter since they got it in April. There are still boxes everywhere, and a stuffed caribou head – given to them by the grandfather of one of Spradlin’s friends – lying in the guest bedroom.
A stuffed caribou head? Spradlin laughed at the thought of someone stumbling into such a thing in the dark. Their van may have stopped in the Quad Cities, but the wild ride continues.