When Matthew Wolff left Oklahoma State to pursue his dreams on the PGA Tour a year ago, never in a million years could the then-20-year-old have imagined what the next 12 months of his life would be like. Wolff won the NCAA individual title in May 2019 and with that champion status came a few sponsor’s exemptions into PGA Tour events. A door was opened to the big leagues. What Wolff did with that opportunity is like a script straight out of Hollywood. After playing in the 2019 Travelers Championship and then missing the cut at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Wolf teed it up in the 3M Open…and won, in just his fourth career PGA Tour start.
His unique swing and powerful game have been talked about in golf circles for a while now, but Wolff just recently became a household name in the sports world, when he competed in the Taylor Made Driving Relief charity match alongside Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.
Sports Illustrated recently caught up with Wolff, who is playing in this week’s Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands. The second-year Tour pro dished on a bunch of topics, including why the Travelers is a favorite stop for the pros, the nerves he felt playing for COVID-19 relief charities and just how hard it is to win (again) on the PGA Tour.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
SI: The first three weeks of the PGA Tour’s restart have produced fields that look like major championships. This week The Travelers Championship has a loaded field. What has it been like competing each week against such strong competition?
Matthew Wolff: It's been pretty impressive with all the players that are playing. I saw a stat last week that was said the strength of field at the RBC Heritage was the strongest non-major field in the last 20 years. I guess that's the whole point of playing professional golf…you want to compete against the best and test your game against the best players in the world. If you play well and you beat them out, you know you can compete with anyone.
SI: This is the third straight week you’re playing under the new Tour guidelines. How has it been playing with the COVID-19 regulations?
MW: It's been a little strange, but I think the PGA tour has done an unbelievable job. We’re getting tested and getting our temperature checked every single time we enter the grounds. There’s a lot of things that we're doing each and every day in order to prevent the spread of COVID, but they're all very low maintenance, low hassle and extremely necessary.
We're all just happy to be back out here playing. We’re thankful for not only the PGA tour getting everything set up, but as well as the sponsors, like Travelers and RBC, for allowing us to play an event in times like this. There's a lot of people that are behind the scenes doing a lot of things to allow us to play and do what we love.
SI: How has it been playing without any fans at the tournaments?
MW: It's definitely different. I feel like it's more normal for me, since in college I really didn't have fans following me or anything like that. There's still volunteers out there. I don't think I've heard anyone say they've lost a ball because there's not enough volunteers. I guess unless you're Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy you're not going to have hundreds of people following you anyways, but having the fans there is something that I miss. I love feeding off the energy interacting with them, but it is one thing that we have to give up in order to play.
SI: Second year in a row you’re playing the Travelers up in Connecticut. What do you like most about this tournament and TPC River Highlands?
MW: It’s one of my favorite golf courses on tour. It has a little bit of everything. You can take advantage on some holes with your length, but it's really a ball strikers golf course. Little misses can sneak bogeys in there. There’s a lot of water on the back nine, so if you're not on your game, it can definitely cost you. I just think it really sets up well to my eye and I just feel comfortable around here.
SI: How about the tournament itself? The Travelers traditionally generates great fields and players rate it as one of their favorite stops of the year. Why is that?
MW: One thing is probably the atmosphere and obviously without fans, it's a little hard to recreate atmosphere. Everyone is extremely friendly up here. They’re doing everything that they can to make sure that you're comfortable and you're having a good experience. I feel like every single year people are looking for a good test of golf, which is what they give us. it just speaks to how good the golf course is and the condition of the course. it's a really fun golf course to play.
SI: You were one of the few guys during that layoff that actually played in a big event. You played in the TaylorMade Driving Relief charity match at Seminole with Rory, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler. Did you learn anything from playing in such a high-profile event?
MW: Yeah, I learned that playing for charity instead of yourself brings a lot more nerves than you might think. I was really nervous, honestly. I think I was more nervous playing in that than I was teeing it up in a PGA Tour event. When you're playing for charity with the pandemic going on you're trying to do everything that you can to help. And you know that every birdie raises more money.
I think that it was honestly a lot of pressure to do it, but we did an unbelievable job and I'm really happy with the way everything turned out. Rickie played really well, and we wanted to win, but that's wasn’t the point. The point was to raise a bunch of money. And we definitely did that.
Playing with those guys I learned things about their games that I feel like I could do better in mine, but it also gave me the belief that I can compete with them. These are the best players in the world, and I didn't feel like any part of my game is lacking. Nothing that would hold me back from competing or beating them. It gave me a lot of confidence.
SI: This young career of yours has been a whirlwind. You came out of college last spring and won on the PGA Tour in just your fourth start at the 3M Open. Since then you have four top 20 finishes. Have you quickly learned how hard it is to win again on Tour?
MW: Yeah, winning on the PGA Tour is just as hard, no matter if it's your first or if it's your second. You can’t go out there and not have your best and still win. There are just too many good players out here that won't allow that. It has been a little bit of a struggle. I’ve made a bunch of cuts and I really didn’t have my game, but I’m still competing out here.
I won so quickly coming out of college. I’ve now had a year to process that and see what parts of my game I can improve. I won so quickly and then all of a sudden I tried to straighten out my ball flight and do other things like that. And it kind of speaks to how well I played in college that I don't need to do anything different since I've been out here. I know that my game is just as good. I feel like I’m a more well-rounded player now. I’ve tried to have a mindset of simplicity. I don’t need to try and change anything just because I’m out here on the PGA Tour.
SI: Could there be another win on the horizon?
MW: I think that my game starting to come around really nicely. I'm being super patient. I’m just learning and maturing as I'm out here. It’s very difficult. You can have your best game and the breaks don’t go your way. I feel like everything has to fall into place to win. And it just shows you how good the best players in the world are that week in and week out they're giving themselves a chance. And that's kind of what I'm trying to work towards.