The 3M Open’s thrilling finish was hours from unfolding Sunday when its executive director and founding father took a moment to explain just exactly how sold he was on giving the kid with the quirky swing and zero PGA Tour status a sponsor’s exemption into this inaugural event.
“The way I felt about Matthew Wolff is exactly how I felt when we gave Jordan Spieth an exemption in Tampa back in 2013,” said Cavner, whose company, Pro Links Sports, runs five PGA Tour events.
As a 20-year-old who had just left the University of Texas as a sophomore to turn pro, Spieth finished tied for seventh in Tampa. “A little later that year, he won the John Deere,” Cavner said. “He wins and he’s oil.”
Oil as in highly valuable as a loyal returning player. Spieth is now a tour superstar with three major victories, but he’s been back to Tampa four of the past six years, winning the Valspar title in 2015.
Wolff, who also left after his sophomore year at Oklahoma State, must not be as patient as Spieth. He used putter from off the green to drain a 26-footer for eagle on the par-5 18th to shoot 65, post 21 under and leapfrog Bryson DeChambeau’s final-hole eagle for 20 under.
“It’s been a good week,” Cavner said.
It was. And Minnesota’s first regular tour stop in half a century didn’t need world No. 1 Brooks Koepka to make it that way. Koepka shot 1-over 72 to finish 6 under and 65th among the 73 players who teed it up Sunday. Of those 73 cut survivors, five were here as young sponsor’s exemptions and 24 were 2018 mini-tour graduates from the Korn Ferry Tour who received one-year PGA Tour exemptions.
Twenty-two of those grads finished in the top 50 of the Korn Ferry Tour finals. The other two placed in the top 25 on the Korn Ferry money list. Koepka, who admitted to treating this week as “practice,” finished behind 22 of those Korn Ferry grads, all five young sponsor’s exemptions and Monday qualifier Arjun Atwal.
But he wasn’t alone. The tour’s future was on full display Sunday. Of the top 22 finishers, 13 of them were either 2018 Korn Ferry grads (nine) or young sponsor’s exemptions (four).
Surprising? Just ask golf agent Graham Shopley, who represents former college teammates Wolff and Viktor Hovland, who tied for 13th at 15 under.
“I wasn’t supposed to still be here,” he joked with Hovland. “I’m down to my last clean shirt.”
Another young sponsor’s exemption, Collin Morikawa of Cal Berkeley, shared the 54-hole lead with Wolff and finished tied for second after a final-round 66.
“The college game is as good as it’s ever been,” said Cavner, who has gotten close to the game through his company and a son, Carson, who played at Houston. “These guys are ready for the tour right out of college.”
Two of the ’18 Korn Ferry grads — Carlos Ortiz, 28, and Wyndham Clark, 25 — finished tied for fifth at 17 under. Ortiz shot 64, while Clark shot 68. Two more — Sam Burns, 22, and Joey Garber, 27 — were right behind in seventh place at 16 under.
“We’re definitely a group that’s out here grinding every week that our status gets us into,” said Hank Lebioda, 25, a Korn Ferry grad who finished tied for 34th at 12 under. “This is where guys like me need to make some money. I don’t think it’s that [Koepka] doesn’t care. But if you consider there aren’t as many players like that in the field then, yeah, there is a better opportunity for us to come in here and have success.”
For Ortiz, the tie for fifth place means some well-needed rest. With 105 FedEx Cup points, he vaulted 24 spots to 95th and virtually assured himself a spot in the playoffs starting the first week of August.
“I’m tired,” he said. “I’ve been playing five, six weeks in a row and I’m playing next week. I’m just happy I can take maybe a week off.”
Wolff is scheduled to play in the John Deere this week. It will be his fifth PGA Tour event, fourth as a pro and the first with a Masters invite and PGA Tour status for the next two years.
Thursday, when he finished up an under-the-radar 69, he was asked about Cavner giving him his sponsor’s exemption.
“Very thankful to him,” Wolff said. “It’s something I won’t forget.”
Three days later, he became the first player to win before his 21st birthday since Spieth did it six years ago.