Monday , April 12 2021

The era of isolation can be difficult for the game and the psyche of the player

BRADENTON, Florida – This is a bad time for a bad game.

Not only during this crowded part of the season, with two World Golf Championships (including this week), the Player Championship and the Masters, everything was packed into a seven-week range.

But in this era COVID-19 on the PGA tour.

Approaching the one-year anniversary of the Tour’s shutdown, the restrictions for players have not been eased as much. It is certain that more people are allowed on the property, including significant others, but the players still largely follow the same protocols and patterns: hotel, course, hotel. Repetition. That’s a lot of time for someone who isn’t already having fun on the course.

It’s a particularly challenging time for someone like Matthew Wolf, who should be a college student at 21 years old. In the end, after last year’s cancellation, he is still the ruling NCAA individual champion. But the toll is starting to show, as it imploded on Thursday at the VGC-working championship with an introductory round of 83 – despite four birds. When asked by media officials from the PGA Tour if he would talk to this reporter about his day, Wolff barely accepted the request, bending down to the clubhouse. Even his trusted caddy, Nick Heinen, had no answers. “I wish I knew,” Heinen said as he left the goal-scoring area.

About three hours after Wolff finished his round, Tour announced that he had withdrawn from the tournament. No reason given.

VGC-Workday Championship at The Concession: Full Field Results | Full coverage

Wolff was a discovery in 2019 and a big highlight in 2020, but this year was a confusing case. In his last seven starts, he did not break through the first 35. Last month, at the Farmers Insurance Open, he withdrew after the first round of 78, citing an arm injury. It was not obvious on what swing he injured his hand, but it was shown on camera how he was hitting the lawn with a stick in frustration.

If Wolff is still dealing with the long-term effects of that injury, it was not clear on Thursday. He just looked miserable. He made four shovels, two doubles, three threes and four during the worst round of his professional career, and the worst result of this stellar VGC in two before retiring from the event. The concession can penalize anyone any day – world number 1 Dustin Johnson signed for 77 – but it is even more cruel to those who are not in the right space.

Usually one of the most interesting and chatty players on the Tour, Wolff barely grumbled more than a few words during his inaugural round at the Concession. Sometimes he was so untied that he wandered away from his group, bending down into the bushes. In the fifth hole, he left the green, head down, and his partner in the game, Shane Lovri, had to ask him to stop moving. On the sixth green, Wolff practiced putting without thinking and accidentally hit the ball.

“Obviously you never want to see that,” said Victor Perez, who shot 69 along with Wolff. “Obviously, the group can hardly have any rhythm. It seems like he was just struggling with the shirt, which on this course, since it’s deceptive, if you really don’t feel the momentum, it becomes quite difficult. “

So how can Wolff’s age blow someone away?

It is not easy, even at this time.

Visiting bars and restaurants is strongly discouraged. And gyms. It cannot be regrouped in the presence of a woman and children in love. His kind swing coach, George Gankas, who has become like Wolf’s father figure, has a busy worksheet at his California club and doesn’t travel to many events. Often it’s just Wolff and Heinen, no releases.

After becoming a professional, Wolff, who grew up in Southern California but went to school in the state of Oklahoma, got his place on the other side of the country, in Jupiter, Florida. The move made sense, and not just because of the lack of a state income tax – he could play all year round and be surrounded by elite competition, always able to find a match. But he is also 3,000 miles away from his closest friends, and soon encountered difficulties in achieving a work-life balance. No wonder he also bought a new house in Oklahoma, about half an hour from where he went to school in Steelwater. He can stay sharp there, but also be a child in college, although very rich and famous with countless sponsorship agreements.

“When I get back there, being close to all my friends helps me calm down a bit,” Wolff said last fall. “Florida, that’s great, but there aren’t a lot of people my age down there. I have golf friends, but I like to come home and I am a big fan of sports and I like to be close to people. Being in Oklahoma allows me to go back to my roots and enjoy time off course. “

Much has been made of how the cold and calm Wolff appeared at the US Open in September, when in just the second major championship of his career he shot on Saturday 65 and took the lead with two shots in the final round. Walking to the first T-shirt that week in Winged Foot, he chatted animatedly on his phone. Not to his family. Not to his girlfriend. Not Gankas. But to one of his friends. What was so important, just a few minutes before you took the most comprehensive test in golf? Early results from NFL games that day.

“It’s just him,” Heinen shrugged.

At that time, everything was fine. Wolff would not have won the US Open, but finished second after Bryson DeChambeau. In the next start, in Las Vegas, Wolff lost in the playoffs. His game has not been at the same level in the last four months, and his attitude of a happy and happy attitude has disappeared.

When I asked Shari Wolff last fall what her son is still learning, on a very public stage on the Tour, she said, “Don’t get down on yourself when he’s not doing well. He is very happy when he is doing very well and he is smiling and having fun. But if the tables turn, his whole attitude and the whole game turns.

“If he can learn – and that’s very difficult to do – that when he feels a little insecure, he can still say, But I’m happy. I’m happy to be here. I love what I do. Yes, this tournament did not turn out the way I wanted, but I have a lot more. He’s working on it. “

Unfortunately, the isolation era of the Tour does not facilitate that internal battle.

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