Tour Confidential: Is the Tour’s newest winner golf’s next superstar?

July 8, 2019
Matthew Wolff hits a tee shot during the 3M Open on Sunday in Minnesota.

Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss Matthew Wolff’s 3M Open victory, The R&A’s decision on John Daly and the Open Championship and more.

1. Matthew Wolff, the reigning NCAA champion who made only his fourth PGA Tour start this week (third as a pro), made a dramatic eagle on the final hole to win the inaugural 3M Open on Sunday in Minnesota. At just 20 he’s the youngest Tour winner since Jordan Spieth won the John Deere Classic in 2013, and he’s only the third player ever to win the NCAA title and win a Tour event in the same year (joining Tiger Woods and Ben Crenshaw). Is it too early to call him the Tour’s next superstar?

Luke Kerr-Dineen, instruction editor (@LukeKerrDineen): With all due respect to Wolff and every other young player out there, yes, it’s still far too early. His talent is undeniable, but even Wolff himself knows there’s a learning curve to winning week-in, week-out on the PGA Tour.

Josh Sens, contributor (@JoshSens): In sportswriting, “superstar” is like “legendary” — it gets tossed around too easily. But that closing eagle was quite the statement. As a compromise, how about we just call him the Tour’s brightest emerging star? At least until next week, when some other dude too young to drink legally wins.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor (@Jeff_Ritter): To me there are about 10-15 superstars on Tour, and no, Wolff isn’t one of them yet. But that swing could find a home on Madison Ave., and I loved the emotion he showed once he clinched the win. I’m excited to see more of him.

John Wood, PGA Tour caddie for Matt Kuchar (@Johnwould): I hope Matthew’s people leave him alone and don’t throw a bunch of temptations and outings and side gigs at him right now. I know you’re supposed to strike while the iron’s hot, but if he plays like this, the iron will be hot for quite a while. Now I don’t know if he will be a superstar or not, but I guarantee he won’t be if, at 20, he starts getting pulled in different directions and has to use energy and attention that aren’t about golf. If he’s going to be a superstar, he’s going to do it winning golf tournaments, so for the time being I hope he’s left alone. But yes, it’s too early to call him the next superstar.

2. Are the rise of unconventional moves like those of Wolff and fellow young stud Viktor Hovland evidence in this era of robo-swings and Trackman that more young players should embrace the eccentricities of their swings?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: To borrow a phrase of yesterday and today, a borderline cliche but deeply true: “Swing your swing.” I wouldn’t say “should” — I would say be open to what works best for you, and if nobody else does it quite like that, so what?

Kerr-Dineen: Lots of people like to talk about how distance is ruining the game, but let’s take a moment to appreciate how it’s making golf better. Matt Wolff is a living example. His swing is not efficient or, dare I say, even pretty. But it doesn’t need to be. It’s the product of raw, unabashed power. He grew up in an era where swinging hard was the first, second and third goal. That’s what led Wolff down this path. Finding creative ways to swing the club to generate speed. You no longer need to be textbook to make it to the very top of the sport, and golf is better for it.

Sens: I remember the first time I saw Eamonn Darcy play in person, and I think he shot 64. So yeah. Own your swing. That doesn’t mean embrace idiosyncrasies just for the sake of them. But also don’t go changing quirks that work.

Wood: It’s remarkable to me in this day and age of Trackman and video and making sure you’ve got a world-class teacher by age 11 to hammer out all of your eccentricities that two young players like this have made it this far and had so much success so early. It’s damn impressive. I think it gives license to young players to do exactly that, embrace the eccentricities of their swings. Will it result in everyone swinging like Matt Wolff in 10 years? No. But it will help guys realize a 65 is a 65 no matter how you swing it.

Ritter: It’s ironic the guy Wolff clipped for the title, Bryson DeChambeau, is another young pro doing it his own way. I love it. The robo-swing isn’t dead — I mean, I could watch Rory, Oosty and Adam Scott hit shots all day — but the old adage remains: there’s more than one way to make a score.

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3. The 3M, played at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minn., was the second of back-to-back new events on Tour. Brooks Koepka voiced some complaints about the course conditions but what did you make of the tournament as a whole?

Bamberger: Didn’t get to see it but from my experience, Minnesota has the most intense golf fans anywhere in the country. Must be the hockey influence.

Kerr-Dineen: It seemed a touch easy for my liking, but that tournament turned out wonderfully, so hard to find much to complain about. Matt Wolff’s victory might have single-handedly secured the future of this event.

Sens: A Tour player complained about course conditions? I’m shocked. I didn’t catch much of the event, but it seemed to draw an enthusiastic crowd. As Michael says, Minnesota is rabid sports fan country. Love it when events show up in places like that. May the 3M enjoy a long run in Blaine.

Wood: Minneapolis is the home of The Replacements, the greatest rag-tag, hang-on-for-dear-life, patch-it-together rock-n-roll band ever. So, Minneapolis can’t do anything wrong. If the golf course was a bit patched together for a year, so be it. It’s a first-year event, so I’d give them a year or two to get it right.

Ritter: It was a little soft, but I enjoyed that par-5 18th over water, which produced two eagles in the final groups that decided it. You don’t want too many players complaining too early, because the big names could start staying away, but all things considered I think the Tour went 2-for-2 with its debut events this summer.

Sens: I like the idea of using music as a barometer, which means from now on, every British Open should be held in Liverpool. Or better yet, Brixton, David Bowie’s birthplace.

Brooks Koepka finished 65th at the 3M Open on Sunday in Blaine, Minn.
Brooks Koepka finished 65th at the 3M Open on Sunday in Blaine, Minn.
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4. 1995 Open champ John Daly’s request to use a cart at this month’s Open Championship — as he did at the PGA Championship — was declined by The R&A. The governing body said walking is “an integral part of the Championship” and wants to make sure the challenge is the same for all players. Daly, who says he has bi-compartmental degenerative arthritis in his right knee, said he “could not disagree more” with The R&A’s decision but plans to tee it up at Royal Portrush anyway. Did The R&A get this one right, or is this ruling too harsh for a former champ?

Bamberger: They got it right, but either way it would have been right. I think if they thought the ONLY thing that prevented a Daly or any other golfer the ability to play in its Championship was the use of a buggy, they’d permit it. At least, I would. But the threshold has to be incredibly high. Here, it apparently wasn’t. It’s not like he can’t walk. He can.

Kerr-Dineen: It’s a tricky situation. I’d think a ruling like this would be too harsh in a number of different instances, but it feels like it’s fair in Daly’s case, because it feels as though he’s the one abusing this privilege. It’s not as though he’s helped his own cause; he showed up to the PGA in a cart with a cigarette dangling from his mouth and a McDonald’s cup in the cupholder.

Sens: They got it right. To add to Luke’s point, Daly hasn’t just been open about his bad health habits in the past; he has profited from them, which made his use of a cart at the PGA seem a bit like a big thumbing-of-the-nose at the game. Beyond that, seems he actually can walk. He’s going to play at Portrush. Who knows. Maybe he’ll even discover, as many golfers have before, that he actually scores better walking, taxing as it may be.

Wood: I think they got it right. I just think allowing a cart to a player with degenerative arthritis opens up a can of worms for future competitors. Where does it stop, exactly? By declaring walking the course an integral part of the Championship, they’ve basically answered all future requests.

Ritter: Wood nails it. If arthritis deserves a cart, where does it end? Pulled hamstring? Old age? Indigestion? The threshold for a cart should be almost impossibly high. I enjoy the Daly experience, but he’s gotta suck it up here, or take some time off and return to the majors when he’s able to walk them.

5. Can Tiger Woods win the Open after taking this long of a break between events? Padraig Harrington isn’t so sure. “I personally think if you’re serious about winning The Open you’ve got to be playing tournament golf at least before it,” Harrington said at the Irish Open. “You’d rather be playing links golf and being in a tournament than just [playing] on your own, so if you’re serious about trying to win The Open you should be playing at least one, if not two, of the events running into it.” When preparing for The Open, how advantageous/critical is a week or two of links-golf warm-up?

Bamberger: Harrington is a top-10 quote producer in this new century, but I think Woods knows the best way for him to give himself the best chance of winning. Crazy-talk, from Paddy — but I love it!

Kerr-Dineen: The point Paddy’s making is the correct one, and it’s something that gets dismissed far too often by Tiger’s fans. Golfers need reps. They need to feel that heat under pressure and close it out. Even when you’ve done it thousands of times before, like Tiger, you still need them. That’s the point Paddy’s making, and it’s nothing different than what Tiger himself has spoken about multiple times.

Sens: Tiger has gone from saying he needs reps to saying he needs rest. He was right then, and I’ve got to figure that he’s right now. Clearly, he’s not oblivious to the drawbacks of a layoff. He’s just trying to give himself his best chance.

Wood: Agree with Josh. None of us know exactly what’s going on with Tiger’s body, and I’m gonna go ahead and trust that someone with 15 majors is going to give himself the best chance in his mind. In an ideal situation I’m sure he would have liked to have played before, but I think health and being fresh is much more important than overly prepared.

Ritter: No doubt Tiger feels rest is his best move, but I still see it as a red flag and will probably avoid him in my Open-related pools. I think he would’ve played somewhere this month if he felt up to it, because for years he spoke about the importance of reps as part of his preparation. (For a while “reps” was right up there with “traj” and “glutes” in his press-conference parlance.) Tiger’s month off tells me his body currently isn’t quite where he wants it to be.

If Bryson makes the team Tiger will need someone to at least nod and pretend they know what he’s talking about.

6. Robert Garrigus missed the 54-hole cut at the 3M Open, his first start since serving a three-month suspension for a failed drug test. He had elevated levels of THC, and said he used marijuana for knee and back pain. But he thinks the Tour needs to change its policy. “If you have some sort of pain and CBD or THC may help that, and you feel like it can help you and be prescribed by a doctor, then what are we doing?” he told Golf Channel. “If you are doing marijuana then we should be testing for alcohol, too. If you can buy it in a store, then why are we testing for it? That’s my opinion.” Is Garrigus right? Does the Tour’s policy need to be amended?

Bamberger: Yes. Yes. Those CBD gum deals are going to come fast and furious now, would be the guess here.

Kerr-Dineen: I think the Tour’s right to have its policies mirror the law of the land. They don’t test for alcohol because as long as you’re over 21, it’s legal to have a drink everywhere in the United States. Marijuana doesn’t hold that same status, and whether I agree with it or not, I understand the Tour’s position to continue testing for it. It gets too unwieldy and complicated — contradictory, even — to operate otherwise.

Sens: He’s certainly right about the double-standard applied to cannabis and alcohol. Long history of that in this country that extends well beyond the golf course. The fact that cannabis laws aren’t uniform across the country would seem to complicate things from a Tour policy standpoint, though, no? You can’t in fact buy it in a store just anywhere at this point.

Wood: I’m with Garrigus here. I don’t know exactly how you would go about it, but it’s fast on its way to being legal everywhere, and as it gains more momentum that way, the Tour should adjust. The fact that hard narcotics and opiates are fine as long as you have a prescription and marijuana is blanket illegal needs to be looked at. Besides, I want the guy I have to beat a little spacey.

Ritter: The laws of the country are still catching up to cannabis, along with sports governing bodies. I expect the Tour will lag behind all of them, but no matter how you feel about it, all signs point to CBD and THC becoming legal, regulated and mainstream in the coming years.

7. Automatic qualifying for this year’s Presidents Cup ends in less than two months, and Phil Mickelson, who has played in all 12 of the events, is on the outside looking in (14th with top eight qualifying). Luckily for him he appears to already be on captain Tiger Woods’ short list. “His phenomenal level of consistency over a long period of time is something we should not take for granted,” Woods told the Australian AP. Can you imagine a situation in which Woods would not use one of his four picks on Mickelson?

Bamberger: Yes, for sure. If Phil does not contend between here and the end of August, I don’t believe Tiger will pick him. Tiger’s looking for points. He’ll let somebody else worry about TV ratings.

Kerr-Dineen: The President’s Cup has become so uncompetitive in recent years that I can’t see a serious movement to leave Phil Mickelson off the team ever gaining momentum, regardless of how poorly he might be playing. He’ll have a spot on this team, whether he deserves one or not.

Sens: Yes. Here’s a scenario: Phil’s game goes in the tank, and there are four guys playing much, much better. They may be more chummy than they once were. But the U.S has only lost this thing once in 12 tries. Tiger will do what he thinks needs doing to prevent it from happening a second time. Maybe that will involve Phil. Maybe not. There’s no guarantee.

Wood: Of course he’s on the short list as he should be. If he stays close to where he is on the points list and shows some signs of good play, I think Tiger would pick him. All things being equal, Phil is phenomenal in the team room, if only for some entertainment, so Tiger would take that into consideration I’m sure. Besides, if Bryson makes the team Tiger will need someone to at least nod and pretend they know what he’s talking about.

Ritter: I think Phil’s spot is safe, unless Phil himself feels so out of sorts this fall that he begs off.