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Written By Justin Bailey (ZoneCoverage.com)
Photo Credit: Brian Curski Photography
What were you doing when you were 20 years old?
Many of you were probably in college, possibly studying abroad. Some of you had probably entered the workforce or were already getting established in your chosen profession. Maybe some of you were just out goofing off, trying to figure out this crazy thing called life.
Personally, I was a college dropout working as a pizza delivery driver, still living in my hometown of Janesville, Wis. In fact, I was still living with my mom, not even paying my own rent or utilities.
Matthew Wolff is currently 20 years old. Originally from Agoura Hills, Calif., he went to college at Oklahoma State University where he became pretty handy with a golf club in his hand. Despite his “herky-jerky” golf swing that countless coaches have attempted to fix, Wolff made the winning putt to clinch the 2018 NCAA Championship and won the NCAA individual title in 2019 as well.
Now, only 20 years old and still owning that same weird golf swing, Wolff just won $1,152,000 as the champion of the inaugural 3M Open which took place at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine this past weekend.
Focusing On The Future
The focus leading up to the tournament was on the established veterans, such as 44-time PGA Tour Champion Phil Mickelson, major winners Brooks Koepka and Jason Day, as well as Minnesota native Tom Lehman, the 60-year-old designer of the very course they were playing on this week.
However, sometime during the week, likely on Saturday after Mickelson had already left on his private jet and Koepka and Day were essentially out of contention, the focus of the tournament shifted to the youngsters.
After the third round concluded, the two men sitting on the top of the leaderboard, Matthew Wolff (20) and Collin Morikawa (22), had a combined seven professional PGA Tour starts. In fact, both of them, who each turned pro earlier this year, were playing this week using sponsor exemptions because they don’t have the credentials to be regulars on tour quite yet.
After them was Joaquin Niemann (20), Bryson DeChambeau (25), Wyndham Clark (25) and Hideki Matsuyama (27) to round out the top 10. This made for an exhilarating final round on Sunday, as many wondered how all of these young players would react to the pressure, and whether or not they could hold their composure to finish things off.
All of them rose to the occasion. Each shot final rounds below par, holding their composure and proving that, although they are young, they are capable of competing at the highest level and any circumstances thrown at them.
It wasn’t for lack of drama either, the tournament was still very much up in the air right down to Hole 72. DeChambeau, who was in the second-to-last group, made an eagle on the final hole after a dazzling approach shot put him about 15 feet from the cup, leapfrogging both Wolff and Morikawa to enter the clubhouse as the leader at 20 under.
After both finding the fairway on their drives, something that deserves credit in its own right due to the difficulty of the 18th hole, it was up to Matthew and Collin to each sink an eagle of their own to force a playoff between themselves, or each secure a birdie to enter a playoff with DeChambeau.
No playoff was needed, as Wolff sank a putt from about a foot off the green in dramatic fashion for an eagle of his own, and the outright lead at 21 under. The crowd went absolutely wild, which made for a sort of anti-climactic ending when Morikawa pushed his own potential eagle, and playoff-inducing, putt to the left of the hole, making Wolff the champion.
After his round, Wolff described the emotions he felt watching that eagle putt fall into the cup, making him a PGA Tour Champion:
“It’s life-changing. I’ve seen it so many times before, like even last two weeks, Nate Lashley, and before that. You know, it really changes your life. It’s something that I’ve dreamed of as a kid watching Tiger and playing with Tom Lehman earlier this week, who’s a hometown guy here. It’s just awesome to see all they’ve accomplished, and to be able to follow in their footsteps is really special.”
A New Generation
It wasn’t just the young players on the course who made the most of their weekend in Minnesota, though. There were thousands of young golf fans walking the grounds with their parents and guardians, many seeing the professionals they watch on TV for the first time ever in person.
The 3M Open was the first non-major PGA Tour event to take place in the state of Minnesota since the 1969 Minnesota Golf Classic, with the last PGA Tour tournament in Minnesota was the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine. Of course, there was also the 2016 Ryder Cup which took place at Hazeltine, but tickets to that weren’t exactly easily accessible.
This was the first opportunity many everyday citizens of Minnesota had to take their golf-loving, and some less than interested, children to watch the best in the world play the game that so many of us love.
After each round ended, kids flocked to the walkway from the 18th green to the clubhouse, hoping to get a high-five, autograph, a golf ball or maybe even a glove from their favorite player. By the final grouping on Sunday afternoon, the crowds by the gates were four, maybe five rows deep, full of children pushing and calling out, attempting to grab a once-in-a-lifetime memory to cherish forever.
I spoke to a father and son while riding the shuttle back to the parking lot at the Anoka County Air Port on Saturday night. I asked them how their day went, who they were able to see, and what their favorite moment was.
“I got a ball from Bryson!” said Blake, an 11-year-old attending his very first PGA Tour event. “He handed it to me and gave me a fist bump too!” He pulled it out of his pocket as his father told me he got it while they were set up behind the 16th green, and Bryson stopped to hand the ball off to his son as they were walking to the tee box on 17.
“Seeing the tournaments on TV, everything seems very professional. Maybe that’s the wrong word, but you only see the actual shots, none of what the players are doing while walking to their balls or to the next hole. You don’t see how much interaction happens with fans during the in-between time. That was quite surprising to me,” said Blake’s father.
This was something that caught a lot of people by surprise, but it was to much delight to the children in attendance.
After DeChambeau made his eagle on the 18th on Sunday, he waited to hear whether or not he would be participating in a playoff with either Wolff, Morikawa or both. Upon hearing the roars of the crowd, he knew his day was done, but instead of heading into the clubhouse, he walked straight back out towards the group of children and started signing autographs.
He stayed there for about 10 minutes, signing as many things as he could, and shaking hands with as many attendees as possible. As Wolff made his walk to the clubhouse to sign his scorecard, DeChambeau turned around the embraced him, congratulating him on his performance.
“It’s moments like that you love to see. It sets a great example for the children, as well as some adults who probably need a lesson in humility as well!” said Jason, the father of two young boys who were somewhere in the crowd, trying to meet one of their heroes.
“These guys are real people. They have emotions just like anyone else. It’s what you do with those emotions that is important, and it’s nice for my boys to see such a terrific display. This will be a day I will remember as a father for years to come, and I hope my boys remember too.”
Many players have punched their ticket into the PGA Tour over the last few years, and the next generation of golfers has been under development for the last decade. It’s moments like this, though, when you start to see pen put to paper and the changing of the tides.
Millennials are no longer killing the golf industry, they are carrying it on their backs, and they are more than ready to do whatever they can to prepare the next generation to carry that load as well as.