Here it is, the disruption, just as George Gankas predicted.
Last fall, the SoCal, SoChill swing whisperer to the stars promised that his prized pupil, Matthew Wolff, wasn’t in the midst of some college hot streak that would soon flame out. This right here was the game’s next force, and the next marketable superstar, even though Wolff was just 19 at the time, only a two-time winner for Oklahoma State and the owner of a funky swing that immediately recalled Jim Furyk ... if Furyk had ball speed approaching 190 mph. Wolff was a local legend and an Instagram sensation, but Gankas still foresaw more – much more.
“I know for a fact that he’s going to change the world of golf,” Gankas woofed. “People are going to lose their minds.”
Yep, chaos ensued after just three summer starts.
Wolff’s magical week in Minnesota started with the third-round 62 to vault into a share of the lead at the inaugural 3M Open.
Then there was the self-assured talk in the press tent, about how he knew – already, seven rounds into his pro career – that he belonged out on Tour and didn’t need to change anything.
And then, of course, there was the fearless and flawless play down the stretch during a Sunday 65 at TPC Twin Cities: The three back-nine birdies to keep pace with a hard-charging Collin Morikawa, then the 26-foot eagle putt from the collar to deny Bryson DeChambeau and claim the landscape-altering victory.
“I’ve changed forever, I guess,” Wolff said afterward.
So has the PGA Tour, at least in the short term, with Wolff becoming the second-youngest Tour winner in the modern era (behind only Jordan Spieth, who was 19 when he won the 2013 John Deere) and automatically earning status through the 2020-21 season, along with assorted other goodies, like entry into the FedExCup Playoffs and an invitation to next year’s Masters.
Even without Tiger or Brooks or any of the other narrative-shapers of this golf season at the top of the leaderboard, the 3M will long be remembered as Wolff’s coming-out party, as the site of the initial disruption. In the past two months he’s won the NCAA Championship at Blessings Golf Club, a brutally difficult track, by five shots. He’s earned the Haskins Award as the nation’s top player, after winning six times in 11 events while playing the country’s most difficult schedule. He’s been billed as the next great one, with the marketing potential of fellow OSU star Rickie Fowler, and accordingly he was courted by management agencies and equipment sponsors and apparel companies, all of whom backed up the Brink’s truck to secure his services. It’s hard to remember a more anticipated summer debut than Wolff’s, and yet all of the hype was justified with his highlight-reel performance in Minnesota.
On Sunday night the WolffPack was growing by the minute, but 4,000 miles away his college coach, Alan Bratton, was still processing what happened. He’s off recruiting in Chantilly, France, so he spent much of the evening unsuccessfully trying to follow the final-round action. For hours he bounced back and forth between featured-group coverage, social-media updates, Shot Tracker and a FaceTime conversation with his wife, Gretchen, being alerted to the final outcome not via replay but rather by the torrent of text messages.
“How good is that?” Bratton said by phone Sunday night.
But neither Bratton nor the staunchest Wolff supporters could have envisioned so much so quickly – after all, Tiger Woods needed five Tour events to capture his first of 81 titles – and Wolff himself admitted that he was rattled by the shakiness of his game in his early action as a pro. But Bratton certainly knew that his former stud was capable. He’d seen glimpses of greatness for two years. How in the fall Wolff would carry his driver 300-plus but hit 80 percent of the fairways. (“It’s like walking around with a video game.”) How Wolff generated the most vertical force ever measured on a Cal State Fullerton biomechanist’s Swing Catalyst. How he always shined brightest in the big moments, whether it was draining the clinching putt for the 2018 NCAA team title or shooting 10 under at nationals to blow away the best field in amateur golf or, now, burying an instantly memorable eagle putt on the 72nd hole at the 3M Open.
Oklahoma State assistant coach Donnie Darr texted Wolff on Sunday morning, hours before Wolff was set to go off in the final pairing for the first time. The message wasn’t about strategy or a swing pointer. It was a reminder that Wolff’s sublime form transcended his competition: “No one in the field has won more than you have in the past year.”
And then Wolff played like it, carrying that same swagger from the first tee all the way to the 18th green, where he finally broke down in tears, knowing that his life had changed forever.
Just like that, he was a starry winner. And a millionaire. And a trending topic on Twitter.
Just like that, Gankas’ boasts were validated. “If he plays like I know he can play,” he had said last fall, “like, oh s---, he’s going to be such a huge disruptor.”
Consider this the first disturbance, then, with plenty more to come.