MAMARONECK, N.Y. — We knew these kids were going to be good. Probably really good. We just didn’t think they’d be this good, this fast.
Six weeks ago, Collin Morikawa made his PGA Championship debut at TPC Harding Park and won. The 23-year-old held off veteran Paul Casey and a pair of former world No. 1s, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day.
Matthew Wolff, 21, shot a Sunday 65 and tied for fourth that week while playing in his first career major. Morikawa may have missed the cut this week at the 2020 U.S. Open, but Wolff has taken up the slack here at Winged Foot Golf Club.
After starting the day at even-par in his U.S. Open debut, the bearded Californian lit up the West Course on Saturday afternoon, shooting a front-nine 30 and finishing with a 65 on a day when the average score was 73.6.
Wolff will start Sunday at 5 under (205) and begins the day with a two-shot lead over Bryson DeChambeau and a four-shot lead over Louis Oosthuizen.
Conventional wisdom holds that even a gifted player is not going to win in his first U.S. Open. After all, it has been 107 years since a golfer won a U.S. Open in his first appearance, and that golfer was Francis Ouimet, who triumphed as an amateur in 1913 at The Country Club in a playoff over Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.
But like Morikawa in August, Wolff is proving that he’s not your typical newcomer. He is mature, maintains perspective and has experience playing in high-profile events, so the spotlight doesn’t blind him or scare him. Wolff won an NCAA Individual Championship while starring at Oklahoma State and already has a victory on the PGA Tour at the 2019 3M Open.
Asked if winning a U.S. Open was the natural next step in his career, Wolff thought for a moment.
“I feel like I’m ready to win out here and win a major,” he said. “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 certainly did that on Saturday. He hit a glorious approach on the very first hole from 155 yards to 14 feet, then made the birdie putt to move to 1 under. He made a 15-foot birdie putt on the fourth hole before going for the green on the 332-yard sixth. That shot found a greenside bunker, but Wolff’s sand shot stopped 5 feet from the cup to set up another birdie. His tee shot on the par-3 seventh stopped 13 feet from the flag to set up another birdie, and then on the par-5 ninth, he blasted a 377-yard drive for his fifth birdie of the day.
“If he plays the way he played today, catching him is going to be almost impossible,” said Xander Schauffele, who shot 70 and will begin Sunday at even par (210).
The list of things that the U.S. Open winner receives is impressive, including an invitation to the next five Masters, British Opens, PGA Championships and Tour Championships. There’s also a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour and a spot in the next 10 U.S. Opens. Oh yeah, and a check for $2.25 million.
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) September 19, 2020
Wolff is not going to think about those things tonight, however. He’s planning on dinner in his hotel room with his caddie, Nick Heinen, and wants to watch the Celtics play the Miami Heat.
“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,” Wolff said. “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, happens.”
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