Surging rookie Wolff headlines John Deere Classic field
By Luke Meredith
AP Sports Writer
Matthew Wolff made a name for himself by winning the 3M Open in his fourth PGA Tour start after turning pro.
The 20-year-old who starred at Oklahoma State will try to make it two in a row this weekend at the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Illinois.
Wolff was the tour’s youngest winner since Jordan Spieth won at TPC Deere Run at age 19 in 2013. And like Spieth, he’s being hyped as a future star as he arrives in the Quad Cities.
Many of the world’s best players are either taking the week off or playing the Scottish Open in preparation for next week’s British Open. That makes Wolff as good a bet as any to make a run at the title at a venue known for low scores.
“My caddie kind of told me that this course is a little bit like last week, just the driving aspect and kind of the way it sets up,” Wolff said. “I played it for the Monday pro-am, and I kind of realized that it was more of a course that suited my eye pretty well and I like the look of it.”
Wolff’s victory last week at TPC Twin Cities took care of a lot: It earned him instant membership and a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour and invitations to next year’s Masters and PGA Championship. But it didn’t get him a spot in the field at the British Open. That, too, is a possibility this week: The top finisher not already exempt who finishes in the top 5 at TPC Deere Run will qualify to play next week at Royal Portrush — and get a seat on the charter flight that the John Deere Classic provides to players making the trip to Northern Ireland.
If he doesn’t get there this year, there appear to be plenty of major championship starts in the future for Wolff, who has always shown huge potential.
Wolff, who grew up in Southern California, earned freshman All-America honors for the Cowboys in 2017-18 before winning the NCAA individual title in May. After missing the cut at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Wolff shot 62-65 over the weekend at the 3M Open, securing the win with a 25-foot putt for eagle from the collar of the 18th green.
That made him the seventh player in the past 80 years to win a PGA Tour event before turning 21, and the other six — Spieth, Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros, Phil Mickelson, Raymond Floyd and Rory McIlroy — went on to win multiple majors.
Wolff and his assistant Cole Spradlin rented a van and drove straight from Minnesota to the Quad Cities, arriving around 2:30 a.m. Monday.
“It’s a dream come true. I’ll say that over and over again. My life changed as soon as that putt went in,” Wolff said. “But it only lasts so long, and my goal is to become the No. 1 player in the world.”
He’s now 135th, but that figures to change soon, too.
The John Deere Classic has long made up for its lack of star power by using sponsor exemptions to lure some of the game’s brightest prospects to its event.
This year’s newcomers will include Cal’s Collin Morikawa, who finished one shot behind Wolff in Minnesota. Morikawa’s performance earned him special temporary membership on the PGA Tour, meaning he can use unlimited sponsor exemptions in a bid to earn his tour card for next season.
Morikawa, who’ll be making his fifth career start, will be joined by fellow rookies Viktor Hovland and Justin Suh.
“Obviously the goal coming into this summer was to earn a full card for next year,” Morikawa said. “We’re almost there.”
One player who doesn’t come in with much momentum is defending champion Michael Kim. After winning at TPC Deere Run by eight shots, matching the largest margin of victory on tour in 2018, Kim began working on swing changes with coach John Tillery and has missed 17 cuts in a row.