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Matt Wolff opens up on pressure as pro, says attitude affected playing partners

Matthew Wolff

Thursday’s 65, Matthew Wolff says, was a bonus. Four days earlier, while warming up for this week’s Wells Fargo Championship, his play was very un-65. “I lost every golf ball I had in my bag.” 

He then continued:

“I was just trying to work on my attitude and have a good time.”

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It’s been nearly three years now since Wolff turned pro, and if his ball-striking alone couldn’t convince you, his victory just two weeks in cemented it: This is a superstar. He played 15 more events before the 2020 Covid break; he made 13 cuts. He held the 54-hole lead at the 2020 U.S. Open. He tied for second in his next event.  

And then? About this time last year, Wolff was in the middle of a self-imposed break. He skipped the PGA Championship. When he returned at the U.S. Open, he told GOLF’s Dylan Dethier that “sometimes it’s a lot of pressure, and I think it got a little intense.” He had been miserable.  

Which brings us back to this week. Along the way, he’s been open and revealing when asked about his mental health, and Thursday was no different. Wolff revealed that it was difficult being looped in with Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa, other stars in their early 20s. He admitted that his attitude affected his playing partners. He said he doesn’t care if he shot a 90 on Friday. “As long as I have a good attitude, I can put a check mark on this week and say that I’ve grown as a person and as a player, and that’s just all I really care about right now.”

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After an introductory question at his post-round press conference, a reporter asked Wolff: “When you talked about working on your attitude, is that anything specific or just overall in general how you think around the course? How do you go about that?”

“I think it’s just more defining my own success,” Wolff said. “I think coming out with Viktor and Collin, they’re really good friends of mine and I think all the success they’ve had is great and I’m very happy for them, but I think just like getting put in that group and, you know, everyone talking about like, you know, everything that I could do with the golf ball or all my skills or anything like that, and I just felt like there was so much pressure and so much expectation around me that it was just really hard to live up to.

“I feel like I call myself a people pleaser because I kind of just like to please everyone. I feel like that’s why I love signing autographs and love doing stuff like that because I just want everyone to be happy. I’ve kind of learned that you can’t really make everyone happy. If you have a good attitude, most people don’t even care how you play, they just kind of like to see that you’re having a good time, and especially the people most important to me. That’s kind of all I’ve been working on.”

What has he done?

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“Yeah, it’s been a lot of different stuff,” Wolff said. “I don’t really like to read, so audiobooks a little bit more than reading. I think, yeah, just talking with the people that have been closest to me, the ones that have supported me the most.

“Kind of knowing and understanding that when people tell me, you know, about how good I am or something like that — not how good I am, but just like just the support that I have, I kind of turn the support into maybe more pressure, or I don’t need to turn it into more pressure because they just want to see me happy at the end of the day. I think just taking what everyone’s saying about me but kind of flipping it a little bit. But yeah, probably internally a little bit and just, you know, being happy to be out here. I’m on the PGA Tour, I’m 23 years old. And I know I’ve struggled, but I know everyone in the world would probably trade places with me, so I need to start learning to enjoy myself and realize how good I have it.”

One of his biggest regrets, Wolff said, was that his attitude was often affecting his playing partners. 

“Just looking back on it, I think it’s happened a couple times and I wish I could go back and reverse it, and I feel terrible,” he said. “Like I said, I never want to affect anyone else, and I was obviously affecting myself a lot. But just the fact that I knew that kind of with my shoulders down or anything that I was struggling with, it was — it’s hard to play good when you’re playing with someone who’s like that. Like I said, I wish I could go back and redo what I did, but the only thing I can do now is from here on forward just try to do my best to not have that attitude. If I let it affect myself, that’s one thing, but if I let it affect someone else, then that’s unacceptable.

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“It’s definitely just been learning experiences and growing and maturing a little bit. Like I said, I can’t do anything about it now, but I’m just trying to be better for everyone and my peers. Those are the people I respect. I want to be able for them to look at me and not, you know, not want to play with me or something like that. I’m just trying to be better for them and for myself as well.”

After Thursday’s first round at the Wells Fargo, Wolff sits two shots back of leader Jason Day. Should he be in contention on the weekend, he’ll be in search of win No. 2, after that victory just under three years ago. But now it maybe doesn’t matter as much it did then, he says. 

A reporter also asked Wolff: “Do you feel that when your attitude is good, that physically you have everything you need to do what you did today?”

“Yeah. I mean, it’s been a rough patch, but I’ve won on the PGA Tour, I know that I can get it done and I know that I have what it takes,” he said. “I think just allowing me to free up a little bit and not get so down on myself or I’m allowed to make mistakes. I feel like in the past I was telling myself that I needed to be perfect and that’s just not the case. No one’s perfect, especially in this game. So I’m just trying to go out there and, like I said, just have fun. 

“That’s really like literally the only thing that I care about.”

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