DETROIT – Funky swing, barely there beard, head-turning power and plenty of birdies. Hey, remember that guy?
You’re forgiven if the name Matthew Wolff has slipped from your PGA Tour lexicon during a pandemic-ravaged season. One of the breakout stars of last summer, Wolff went from college standout to full-time Tour member in a matter of weeks with his victory at the 3M Open in July. The win put him on a path toward stardom at just 20 years old, with endorsement money rolling in and his card locked up through 2022.
But that growth has become a little more stunted in recent months, as Wolff has struggled to fine-tune his game. Missed cuts piled up. His former teammate, Viktor Hovland, got a win of his own earlier this year at the Puerto Rico Open. Another peer, Collin Morikawa, went an entire year without missing a cut and is generally viewed as the most promising prospect of the 23-and-under brigade.
Wolff, meanwhile, is still looking for his first top-10 finish since he left Minneapolis with the trophy last Fourth of July weekend.
He opened the Rocket Mortgage Classic with a 3-under 69, the type of score that doesn’t get much attention on a par-72 layout where 25 under won a year ago. But Friday was a different story at Detroit Golf Club, as he reeled off six straight birdies en route to a 64 that gave him a share of the lead at 11 under.
“It was nice to not be around the cut this time, and to put myself into a good spot going into the weekend,” Wolff said. “Because as I’ve learned the last couple weeks, you definitely can’t win on the first two days, but you can sure as heck lose.”
The last few months have been rocky for Wolff, to say the least. His lone top-20 finish this year is a bit deceiving, as he tied for 11th in a field of 34 players at Kapalua. He hasn’t finished better than 54th since January, and he missed the cut each of the last two weeks.
The sluggish form led to some equipment changes, as he retooled his irons and added two degrees of loft before this week’s event. But the focus has also been inward as he looked to emulate the form of last year’s whirlwind summer.
“I feel like I was really caring too much about the outcome and thinking about every little factor on every single shot,” Wolff said. “I had a lot of success early, but I feel like I was always trying to change something. I didn’t really think it was going to take a step back, but for me I was trying to take a step forward and it honestly reversed my progress.”
The adjustments Wolff made to his irons have paid immediate dividends after just two rounds. Starting the week ranked 161st in strokes gained: approach, he picked up more than three shots on the field with his approach shots during Friday’s round. The longest made putt during his run of six straight birdies in the middle of his round was only 11 feet.
Without a cut line to sweat, Wolff heads into the weekend with a tee time for just the second time since the Tour returned to competition four weeks ago. But he’s hoping for more than incremental progress, as a second victory and emphatic end to a minor slump is now within reach.
And if he pulls it off, rest assured that his unorthodox swing won’t be forgotten again for a while.
“I think that I’m kind of just doing what I usually do and go out there, keep it simple and have fun, and remember that it’s just a game and whatever happens, happens,” Wolff said. “But I’m pretty confident in myself, and know that I’m going to be out here for a long time. So I don’t need to be putting all that pressure on one shot or one missed cut.”