Matthew Wolff. Pic: John Mummert/ USGA
Tiger Woods is younger than my generation, and Phil Mickelson is closer to where I am, but my son’s generation is already here and beating the hell out of us. In golf and everything else.
Matthew Wolff may or may not win this week, but it is clear that the Gen Next is here. It was Collin Morikawa a few weeks ago at the PGA Championship, and now it is Wolff, two years younger than the 23-year-old Morikawa, who occupied the pole position after 54 holes at the US Open, considered the toughest of the four Majors.
After 54 holes, Wolff is in lead. His third round 65 equalled first round leader, Justin Thomas’ first round 65, and he is two ahead of Bryson Dechambeau (70), while Louis Oosthuizen (68), who apart from a win at the Open in 2010, has a unique distinction of being runner-up at each of the four Majors, is third. Hideki Matsuyama (70), Xander Schauffele (70) and Harris Engloish (72) are Tied-4th at even par and Rory McIlroy (68) seventh. Zach Joihnson (68), Viktor Hovland (70) and Rafa Cabrera-Bello (74) are tied-eighth.
Of the Top-10, only McIlroy (4), Zach Johnson (2) and Oosthuizen (1) have won Majors.
Patrick Reed (77), the third round leader, is T-11, Justin Thomas (76) is Tied-17 and Dustin Johnson (72) is T-22.
It is not just these Wolff and Morikawa, for who missed the cut by one this week. You cannot miss Viktor Hovland, 22, who since the re-start of golf has not missed a single cut in 12 starts and has had five T-20 finishes. There is also Chilean Joaquin Niemann, 21, who was T-3 at BMW and T-28 at Tour Championship. Hovland is T-8 after 54 holes at US Open and Niemann is T-11. Add to this lot, Scottie Scheffler, who at 24 is the ‘old’ man in this gang. He was the Rookie of the Year 2019, T-4 at PGA Championship, T-4 at Northern Trust and T-2 at Tour Championship. Unfortunately he had to miss the US Open after testing positive for Covid-19.
Just to put things in perspective – When Woods won his first pro event, the Las Vegas Invitational event in June 1996, Scheffler was three months old and the others were not born!
After shooting a 65 in his debut US Open and taking a two-shot lead after 54 holes, Wolff when asked if he would describe himself as fearless, said, “Yeah. I think that I go out there and I play my game. There’s a lot of holes out there that maybe people would try to hit it in the fairway or maybe take the safe play because it is a U.S. Open and they know that pars are a good score, but I don’t really like to think of it that way. I like to go out there and do what I feel comfortable with, rip dog and see how it goes from there. I feel comfortable with every part of my game so I don’t like to shy away from things when I’m feeling confident.”
And then he was told that a lot of people are probably surprised that somebody playing in their first U.S. Open is leading after 54 holes. Yet he has won an NCAA individual championship and has won on the PGA TOUR (3m Open last year when he was just 20). Does he think this is a natural next progression in his career? Or is this coming maybe a little bit quicker than you otherwise would have thought?
Wolff immediately replies, “That’s a hard question. I mean, I feel like I’m ready to win out here and win a major. I’ve already won a PGA TOUR event and I knew my game was in a really good spot. I’ve been feeling really good, really confident, and with my mindset right now how I’m thinking about the game is really good. I really think that I can go out there and play really well.”
He added, “It is a major. It’s really important, and yes, it is really early in my career, but I feel like I have the game, like I said, to win. Collin won at 23, I’m 21, and I’m not saying that it’s going to happen, but I mean, I put myself in a really good spot, and obviously I’m feeling really good with my game, so I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing and whatever happens.”
Wolff had edged Morikawa and DeChambeau for his first PGA TOUR victory at the 3M Open just over a year ago. He was the 54-hole leader at the Rocket Mortgage and shot 71 in the final round to finish second to DeChambeau (65). They were both fourth at the PGA, as Morikawa lifted the Trophy.
At the US Open, Wolff and DeChambeau go out in the final group. One has a rather unorthodox swing. Wolff buckles his knee as a trigger of sorts before he launches into the final action that opens his hips and shoulders before the impact that smashes the ball into the orbit.
Then there is DeChambeau, whose dream it is reach the green of every Par-4 off the tee and in two on every Par-5. Don’t be surprised if he does get there someday.
A little earlier, Hovland met the media and when asked about his Pebble Beach experience of the US Open in June last year, when he was T-12, he said, “Yeah, that was before I turned pro, the week before, and I guess it just gave me a lot of confidence that I was able to compete at this level. Playing Pebble Beach, I always had some good memories from the U.S. Amateur the year before, but it just gave me a lot of confidence knowing that I could compete with the best players in the world.” Hovland, who turned pro the week after US Open, was 4tth at 2019 Wyndham, won the Puerto Rico Open, was third at Workday Open, T-33 at PGA and T-14 at Tour Championship and was among the four nominated for Rookie of the Year, 2019.