Done matriculating and ready to embark on professional careers together, four former collegiate stars differing in age and backgrounds posed for a photograph at the Travelers Championship two weeks ago.
Standing side by side, their arms latched together, that captured image just might link Matthew Wolff, Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa and Justin Suh forever, no matter where their separate careers now take them.
On Saturday, those very young careers took Wolff and Morikawa to the top of the inaugural 3M Open’s leaderboard, where the 2019 NCAA individual champion and the former Cal star are tied with five-time tour winner Bryson DeChambeau at 15 under par.
They lead Wyndham Clark and Adam Hadwin by one shot and Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama, Charles Howell III and former Minnesotan Troy Merritt by two.
The highest-placed major champion on the leaderboard is 1996 British Open winner and Alexandria, Minn.- raised Tom Lehman, tied for 27th after shooting three rounds in the 60s.
Just 20, Wolff followed 62s posted Thursday by first-round leader Scott Piercy and Friday by second-round leader DeChambeau with his own Saturday on a TPC Twin Cities course that again played mostly soft without a typical blustery Blaine breeze for a third consecutive day.
Wolff did so with a twitchy swing and booming distance that playing partner Tom Lehman — three times Wolff’s age — likened to the debut of a guy named John Daly, not for similar styles but the same kind of flexible swing and “jaw-dropping” length.
“Every time I play with somebody, it’s a different swing than mine,” Wolff said when asked about playing alongside Lehman’s compact swing.
Wolff came from eight shots back on a day when leader DeChambeau birdied his first and last hole but failed to make another in between.
Nearly an hour after play ended, he was the only player out on the range.
“I didn’t play that bad,” DeChambeau said. “I just couldn’t get any momentum. People say I’m a little slow and tedious. For me, it was monotonous and it was disgusting. I didn’t like it. Yuck.”
Wolff, meanwhile, made 10 birdies, six consecutively starting at the par-4 fifth.
All four former collegiate stars are playing this week on sponsor’s exemptions, and all four made the cut. Suh is a Californian (via USC) tied for 68th, and Norwegian/2018 U.S. Amateur champ Hovland is 9 under and six shots off the lead.
Wolff is the youngest, having left college after his sophomore year. Oklahoma State teammate Hovland did so after his junior season. Morikawa and Suh graduated after four years.
Morikawa made eight birdies Saturday, with just one bogey, and is in the lead in only his fourth professional event.
“It is cool,” the 22-year-old said about all four turning pro together. “You know, who knows where this is going to take us? … This is awesome to be out here. This is what we’ve always wanted, to be in this position. … Who knows what paths we’re all going to take? It’s so early on, but it’s good to see all of us playing well.”
Lehman took a close look Saturday at Wolff’s swing, an experience he called the “Matthew Wolff Show.” He met Hovland for the first time Tuesday and hadn’t yet met the other two, but knows all four very well could shape the PGA Tour’s future.
“It’s a different ballgame out here with the style of play, but it’s fun to watch,” Lehman said. “It’s fun to see how gifted they are. It takes a lot of talent to swing that hard and hit a ball that far and hit it that straight.”
Morikawa finished 14th at the Canadian Open, 35th at the U.S. Open and 36th at Travelers. Hovland tied for 13th last week in Detroit at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Suh missed the cut in his first two pro events before making one this week. Wolff missed last week’s Friday cut and Saturday’s secondary cut the week before.
“I knew we were all capable of really good golf when we’re on our games,” Hovland said. “I’m not surprised to see them doing really well this week. Good golf is good golf.”
A 10-year tour pro, Hadwin was asked if he’s surprised two golfers who just turned pro are pushing the lead after Day 3.
“Not really, not anymore,” he said. “You’ve been seeing it for so many years now. The last five, six years, guys come straight of college and have no fear. Certainly, not surprised they’re up there and, you know, I’m going to go try and chase them down tomorrow.”
DeChambeau said he doesn’t expect a fourth consecutive 62, at least not from the leaders.
“Maybe, you never know, right?” he asked. “All I know is there is going to be some pressure. … I’ve won a couple times out here, I know how to get it done. Doesn’t mean I’m going to get it done, just means that I know what to do.”