Wolff steps up on big stage, earns first PGA TOUR victory at 3M Open

BLAINE, Minn. – Matthew Wolff was a very interested spectator, waiting back in the 18th fairway on Sunday afternoon, as Bryson DeChambeau stood over an eagle putt that would give him the lead in the 3M Open.

He saw the 7-footer drop and watched DeChambeau, already a winner of five PGA TOUR events, clench his fists and pose like the Incredible Hulk in celebration. Then Wolff, who was playing in the day’s final group, had to compose himself and hit a shot across that gaping lake to the same green. He needed a birdie to tie and an eagle to win.

Heady stuff, to be sure. Particularly for a 20-year-old with that unique, herky-jerky swing who was making just his third PGA TOUR as a professional, and fourth overall.

“It was kind of a delay actually from the crowd roar to when I saw him throw the fist pump,” Wolff recalled later. “So, it was great playing by Bryson. He’s obviously one of the best players in the world and he’s proven himself.  To be able to have a chance against him is awesome.

“But my mindset was kind of the same with that shot. I knew I was going to go for it… And when he did that, I kind of told myself and talked to Steve, it would be pretty special to roll in an eagle and finish this deal off on 18.  Kind of that little adrenaline boost, I guess kind of motivated me.”

Steve was Steve Lohmeyer, the veteran caddie who just started working for Wolff at the 3M Open. And in the ultimate pressure situation, the looper knew just what to say to his new boss.

“You’re the best long iron player here this week,” Lohmeyer told Wolff. “Let’s show these people what you can do. We could see everything. It was actually really cool – we could see (DeChambeau) make it, and then I said, let’s just hit this golf shot.”

Now, the 5-iron wasn’t perfect. It didn’t cut quite like Wolff had hoped. But it settled up against the collar off the green, and there was just 26 feet of real estate standing between him and what would be a life-changing victory.

Wolff later admitted he was shaking a little as he surveyed the putt. Lohmeyer liked the read, though, and stepped away as Wolff took several deep breaths. Finally, he hit the ball and watched intently until it got about a foot from the hole.

He knew it was in. Wolff stepped forward, pumped his fist and yelled “come on,” just like he had when the made the putt to clinch the 2018 NCAA team title. It was his time.

“I’ve been told so many times before that I was born for moments like these, I live for moments like these,” Wolff said. “It doesn’t get better than this.

“I had a blast out there, and to make that putt was everything. You know, for me it was just kind of staying calm, doing what I do. And not a lot of putts were dropping today. I kind of told myself, you know, this wouldn’t be a bad time for one to go my way. …

“It was the most excited I’ve ever been. I’m usually not an emotional guy at all, but tears definitely came to my eyes when I stepped off and picked that ball up out of the hole.”

Tears flowed again after Collin Morikawa, Wolff’s long-time friend and Sunday’s playing partner, missed a 25-footer for an eagle of his own that could have forced a playoff. Wolff hugged Lohmeyer, burying his face in his caddie’s shoulder, and both men cried.

“He was just telling me how proud of me he was,” Wolff said. “And it’s something that we talked about since the beginning of the week just being myself and I didn’t really say much because I was crying.

“But just all the work that he’s done has been really helpful and I really appreciate everything … and I’m looking to a great future with him.”

And that future has changed dramatically for Wolff, who now has his PGA TOUR card until the end of the 2020-21 season and a ticket to the FedExCup Playoffs.

As recently as last week when he missed the cut at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, the Californian remembers sitting in his hotel room wondering if he’d made the right decision leaving Oklahoma State after his sophomore season to turn pro. He didn’t feel comfortable with his game. Seemed like everyone was shooting 20, 25 under and he wondered if he was good enough.

Wolff even saw a tweet earlier this week where someone had taken a picture of his TOUR finishes, implying he was overrated. Tied for 50th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open when he was still an amateur. Tied for 80th at the Travelers Championship in his pro debut and last week’s missed cut.

Instead of getting mad, though, Wolff used the slight to his advantage.

“There’s always people who are going to go out there and put you down a notch,” he said. “There’s always people who will go out there and tell you you’re the best player in the world.

“I think that kind of motivated me a little bit, but at the end of the day it’s all talk and what you believe is the most important thing and who you have around you is the most important.”

One of those people is OSU assistant coach Donnie Darr, who texted Wolff on Saturday night after he seized a share of the lead with Morikawa and DeChambeau. Darr reminded Wolff that he won six tournaments over the previous six months – more than anyone in the field at the 3M Open — and to draw on that experience in the final round.

“He was pretty much telling me, he goes, ‘You can do it.  Your winning is no different at any level, it’s about being in that moment, it’s about handling it, staying calm, staying present,’” Wolff remembered.

“That kind of hit with me.  You know, I know how to win, I know how to seal the deal and I live for moments like that putt or those clutch moments where you have to step up to the stage.  And that’s what I did.

“It was awesome.”