JERSEY CITY, N.J.—Sitting at 7-over for the tournament through 35 holes and about to miss the cut by eight shots at the Northern Trust, Matthew Wolff took some time to himself on the ninth tee at Liberty National. He tapped in for bogey on the par-5 eighth and stormed up the hill to the ninth long before playing partners Matt Fitzpatrick and Aaron Wise putted out.
Once on the tee, Wolff hung his head and casually flipped through his yardage book, as if it would provide some answers to why he was struggling. He was also presumably wondering if his season would come to an end this week, as he is currently projected 70th in the FedEx Cup standings. After entering the week 59th, if he drops any further over the weekend, he will not qualify for next week’s BMW Championship.
At this level, especially when you’re on the bubble in the playoffs like Wolff is, every shot counts. On the ninth—Wolff’s final hole of the day—he didn’t even bother discussing the tee shot with caddie Nick Heinen. He quickly grabbed his 3 wood and pulled his tee shot left into the hazard before giving the classic Tour player response to an errant shot, the one-handed finish followed by a club drop.
In that moment, Wolff’s frustration boiled over, as he threw his 3 wood into the woods next to the tee box and stomped away.
Some golf pundits freak out over this, believing that golfers should never act out like this no matter how poor they are playing. I’ve never understood this thinking, it lacks perspective. Every situation is different, every player has a different set of circumstances, both on and off the golf course.
Players today are playing for more money than any other area of golf. The Tour is as deep as it has ever been. $15 million will be given out to the FedEx Cup champion following the Tour Championship. It’s a surprise things like this don’t happen more often.
Golf is a game of respect and integrity, and Wolff showed plenty of both after the club throw. He walked down the left side of the fairway by himself well ahead of Heinen, collected himself, took a drop, and hit a spectacular shot to 11 feet.
Wolff drained his putt for par, gave a gracious wave to the crowd and shook hands with his playing partners. It would’ve been easy to make a beeline for the scoring area right then, but Wolff stopped, gave a golf ball to one walking scorer and a 56-degree wedge to the other. The scorer didn’t even know what a wedge was, but she still had a smile from ear-to-ear as she walked off the green.
Wolff has had a difficult season filled with highs and lows. He began contending in major championships in 2020, finishing T4 at the PGA Championship and was runner-up at the US Open. He hit rock bottom after getting disqualified from The Masters in April. He then took two months off—including missing the PGA Championship at Kiawah—and didn’t return until the US Open at Torrey Pines.
“Some of the feelings that I had were like getting up in the morning knowing I had to get out of bed and just not being able to,” Wolff said. “I just want to stay in my bed and not be in front of everyone and not screw up in front of everyone.”
Wolff hasn’t had his best stuff since returning to action, his best finish being a T17 in Memphis, but he says he is doing better as a person.
“I'm doing a lot better. I am,” Wolff said earlier this week. “I feel like I'm starting to feel like the results based -- or the performance doesn't so much affect the person that I am, and I can still be friendly to fans and talk to people and smile and have fun out there and enjoy all the hard work that I've put in to be where I am today. Sometimes I take that for granted.”
As golfers, we’ve all been in the headspace Wolff was in Friday, no matter what level you play at. You walk around with blinders on, like no one else even exists as you contemplate every possible reason for that day going wrong on the course.
And it’s so easy to let that feeling carry into your life off the golf course. I can relate to Wolff because I battle the same things every single day. There are so many days where I feel like I can’t get out of bed, like I can’t face the world, like I’m somehow not good enough to be in front of other people. It becomes overwhelming and sometimes consumes my entire life.
I am clearly not the only person going through this. That’s why it is so important for athletes like Wolff, Naomi Osaka, Rory Mcilroy, and others to encourage people to treat mental health just like any other injury. No one looks down on anyone who tears their ACL, so why should we look at mental health issues any differently.
An important step to resolving some of these issues is realizing that it is okay to ask for help. That help can take on many different forms. For some, like Wolff, taking some time off can be exactly what a person needs. For me, I take medications to help manage depressive symptoms and see a therapist each week.
As his season begins to wind down, it seems that this fall will provide Wolff with more time to rest and recover.
“I think that I'm definitely going to take as much time as I can off in the fall to work on my game as well as my mental side and just being happy,” Wolff said. “I think I'll have a couple months off, and that will be a good time to reset and work on what I need to work on. I’ll take a couple weeks off, then play the fall, and then I'll have a couple months off.”
Wolff has been winning golf tournaments his entire life. He will undoubtedly continue having success professionally, if he continues to take care of himself as a person.