The evening before he changed his young life forever with Sunday’s grandstand-shaking eagle putt that won the inaugural 3M Open, Matthew Wolff walked past a man in a golf cart outfitted with a walkie-talkie at a TPC Twin Cities backstage area and promised tournament executive director Hollis Cavner this:
“You’re going to get your money back,” Wolff said.
The day before that, Cavner spotted the 20-year-old playing on a sponsor’s exemption two months out of Oklahoma State $60 when he didn’t have enough cash to tip locker room staff.
On Sunday, that 26-foot eagle putt from the fringe at TPC’s watery, par-5 closing hole not only earned Wolff a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour and invitations to some of its greatest championships, it won him a $1.152 million payday in only his fourth tour start.
It also brought him to tears. His 21-under 263 for the tournament beat five-time PGA Tour champion Bryson DeChambeau and fellow rookie and childhood peer Collin Morikawa by a single stroke, in the final round’s final pairing.
By doing so, he joins Tiger Woods and two-time majors champ Ben Crenshaw as the only men to win an NCAA individual title and a PGA Tour event in the same year. He also added an exclamation point to this notion that with a twitchy swing and jaw-dropping length, he just might be golf’s Next Big Thing.
“I’ve been told so many times before that I was born for moments like these,” Wolff said. “I live for moments like these. It doesn’t get any better than this. I had a blast out there and to make that putt was everything.”
Wolff finished 80th and missed the cut in the two events he played after he turned pro two weeks ago. On Sunday, he kept DeChambeau — a winner four times in 2018 alone — winless in 2019 after DeChambeau made a dramatic closing eagle himself, seemingly to force a playoff at the very least while playing in a twosome directly ahead of Wolff and Morikawa.
After he made birdies at holes 13 and 16, DeChambeau boomed a 204-yard second shot over the water at No. 18 to 6 feet and made the eagle putt with a scream and fierce fist pump that leapfrogged him from one shot behind Wolff and Morikawa to one shot ahead.
So very briefly for an accomplished winner who shot 62, 66, 66 three days and 70 on Saturday.
“That’s golf sometimes,” DeChambeau said afterward, red-faced from the sun and probably the closing events. “Sometimes you’re just not going to get your way, you know? I gave it my all. I knew I could win. Shoot, it was frustrating, you know. Especially walking up 18, signing the scorecard and going, ‘All right, there’s going to be a playoff,’ especially seeing where they were. I had no idea he would make that putt.”
But Wolff did, from above the hole, on the fringe and against the green’s collar 26 feet away while Morikawa reached the green’s middle in two and was 25 feet away.
Asked afterward about one of the biggest putts of his young career, Wolff said, “The biggest.”
After fighting his balky putter most of the day, Wolff lined up the putt and knew he’d have to hit down on the ball with it resting between two different lengths of rough.
“I was shaking, to be honest,” he said. “I told myself just give it a chance. A lot of my putts weren’t going in today, and I was just telling myself, one’s bound to drop in. It happened at the right time.”
He looked away before the ball reached the hole.
“I knew it was in,” Wolff said. “It hit center of the flagstick and dropped and I’ve changed forever, I guess.”
Morikawa’s putt would have forced a sudden-death playoff back on the 18th tee between the two former college stars who played youth golf against each other countless times in Southern California. It rolled just left of the cup after a birdie putt at No. 17 minutes earlier rolled around the cup and didn’t fall, leaving both Morikawa and Wolff with their mouths agape.
In contrast to DeChambeau, Morikawa was mostly smiles after shooting a back-nine 30 and a 66. When asked if the loss hurt despite the $563,200 check he has coming, he said: “It does. I’m out here to win. But to come out here, in my fourth start, finish T2, there’s a lot to build off this. … I love this, I love being out here. This is exactly what I’ve wanted to do my entire life. I can’t see anything else. So I’m excited to keep playing.”
Morikawa’s tie for second earned him special temporary tour membership while Wolff won his way into this year’s FedExCup playoffs and, next season, the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, the Players Championship, Masters and PGA Championship.
“I’m a 20-year-old and I’m saying ‘job security,’ but it really is,” Wolff said.
He said he will most await the Masters, which he called a lifelong dream. He mentioned his birthday is April 14, the date this year when Woods won his 15th major and first in 11 years.
“It would be pretty cool to get that Masters win on my birthday,” he said.
The Masters ends April 12 next year.
“Thanks for ruining my dreams,” Wolff said.
Wolff turned down Cavner after he offered to buy some players a beer Saturday because he’s too young to drink alcohol.
But about that loan …
“Hollis did get his money back,” Wolff said. “I actually gave it back to him.”