06/17/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/17/2021 17:31
SAN DIEGO - Matthew Wolff made a brave return to golf at the U.S. Open on Thursday.
The 22-year-old has been missing from the PGA TOUR for two months as he looked to fight off some mental health issues plaguing his mind, his game, and his life in general.
But the 2019 3M Open winner - and runner up from the 2020 U.S. Open - courageously picked Torrey Pines and its tough examination as his return despite shooting a 6-over 78 on the South Course prior to a withdrawal back in February's Farmers Insurance Open.
This time around Wolff put together a rollercoaster 1-under 70 (the U.S. Open plays the course to a par-71) that included an incredible eight birdies and just four pars - the fewest number of pars in a sub-par round at a U.S. Open since detailed stats have been kept (1983). The previous highest score to par in a U.S. Open when making eight or more birdies in a round was 4-under.
Stepping aside as a professional athlete was a tough decision for Wolff but a wise one beyond his tender years. As we learn more and more about mental health battles it has become apparent that knowing when to take a break can be pivotal to any hope of recovery.
Wolff says he knew something drastic was needed when he hated every minute of playing in April's Masters where he was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. Prior to that he'd withdrawn mid tournament from two events and hadn't had a top-25 since being runner up in back-to-back starts at the U.S. Open and Shriners Hospitals for Children Open last fall.
We often associate bravery and strength with physical feats. But one doesn't need to play a contact sport to show these traits. Wolff was brave to submit his psyche to the Torrey test. He was bold to fight back from mid-round adversity. And he was gutsy to front up to media scrutiny and talk about his battles.
'Mental health is a really big problem,' Wolff said. 'Any professional athlete has to deal with a lot more stress and pressure than most people and it just kind of got to me... and I think I just put too much pressure on myself... but I've been working on it, I've been learning and I think that's all I can do.
'(The Masters) was pretty much the turning point… the entire time my head was down and I hated it. I just didn't love being out there. The biggest thing right now that I'm trying to do is enjoy myself again and just take care of myself really. I love these fans and I want to play well for them, but right now I'm just really trying to be happy and realize I live a great life and I want to enjoy it.'
As someone looking to live a little more stress-free Wolff put his nerves to the test on Thursday when he blocked his first tee-shot on the 10th way right. It was the type of swing that could've broken him from the start but instead he was soon smiling after a brilliant recovery shot to 22-feet and a converted birdie saw him on his way.
With further birdies at 12 and 13 Wolff was immediately back in the limelight, leading the tournament. And then things got awkward.
A bogey on the 15th hole was followed by a terrible double bogey on the 16th that featured a missed putt from a foot and then another bogey on 17 had him over par and seemingly in trouble.
Wolff saw it as a sign. This was the moment to put into practice the methods he'd worked on throughout his time away. The score wasn't the focus. His enjoyment was. He took a few deep breaths and reminded himself how many others would love to be where he was, playing sport for a living and how, more importantly, he loves playing the game.
'My caddie and I have been working really hard about just staying in the level head space and focusing on the shot ahead of you and not the shot behind you,' Wolff explained. 'I'm probably going to be struggling with that and learning how to handle bad shots for the rest of my career, but I'm young and I'm learning.'
With his focus keyed in he birdied five of his next six holes - with a bogey on the other - and once again found the top of the leaderboard. His second double bogey of the round though would kill the momentum and lead to the respectable 70, just three off the pace from the morning wave.
'A lot of good, a lot of bad. I started off really strong and made quite a few putts at the start of my round and then stumbled a little bit. But it's the U.S. Open, everyone's going to stumble,' Wolff said.
'I wasn't expecting it. It's my first tournament back and it's the hardest tournament that golf provides us. So it was really nice to start the way I did. It's awesome that I played well, I'm thrilled, but no matter what score that I shot it was just good to be having fun and I haven't had fun out here in quite a while.
'I made a huge step in the right direction and I have a heck of a long way to go, but I'm working my way towards it.'