The U.S. Open did what it often does, bruising and battering the best golfers in the world, sometimes making them look silly, but also highlighting how good they really are when considering the immense obstacles in the path at America’s national championship.
That might have been of little consolation to Matthew Wolff early Sunday evening, after he finished second to Bryson DeChambeau at Winged Foot, though the long-hitting Wolff quickly put things in perspective after signing his scorecard.
“A bunch of positives, I think,” said Wolff, who shot rounds of 66-74-65-75. “You can’t take Bryson out because obviously he won, but shooting even par for four rounds at Winged Foot is pretty exceptional.
“I played really tough all week. I battled hard. Things just didn’t go my way. But first U.S. Open, second place is something to be proud of and hold your head high for. I’m just excited to learn from this experience, and it’s definitely not the last time that I’m going to be in this spot.”
That is the perfect way for Wolff to view the situation because it was a struggle for him almost from the start on a day that saw him make an eagle but no birdies while adding five bogeys and a double-bogey.
He shot 75 after taking a 2-shot lead into the final round — and lost by 6.
Of course, DeChambeau became the first player in 65 years to win a major while being the only player to shoot under par in the final round. When Jack Fleck did that in 1955 at the Olympic Club, he needed an 18-hole playoff to defeat Ben Hogan and win the U.S. Open.
The Sunday struggles are the kind of thing that might send a golfer into a funk, causing him to wonder what went wrong and making him the subject of conjecture about how difficult it might be to recover from such a collapse.
But for Wolff, there should be no such fear. In this case, especially, there is no shame in finishing second — not when you completed 72 holes in even par on a golf course where many expected the winning score to be over par and not when DeChambeau did otherworldly things and was the only player in the field to break par on Sunday.
Keep in mind that Wolff, 21, was playing in just his second major championship. Only 15 months ago, he won the NCAA individual title for Oklahoma State, and soon after, he turned pro. This was his first U.S. Open; you have to go back to Francis Ouimet in 1913 for the last time a player won the championship in his first attempt.
The 65 Wolff shot in Saturday’s third round, hitting just two fairways, was certainly impressive. Given how he has played in these big tournaments — last month, he finished tied for fourth at the PGA Championship in his first major attempt — the idea of his prevailing was certainly within reason.
“I feel like I’m ready to win out here and win a major,” he said Saturday.
Fear is not part of the arsenal of today’s young players. Confidence is their forte, and as with fellow newcomers Collin Morikawa — who won the PGA — and Viktor Hovland, the idea of contending often and winning often was hardly out of the question.
Still, it was a big ask for Wolff to capture a U.S. Open in his first attempt — or become the youngest major champion since Tiger Woods at the 1997 Masters and the youngest U.S. Open champion since Bobby Jones in 1923.
“The U.S. Open is a whole different story,” Wolff said. “I think the firmness of the greens and the rough length and just the course in general. … Winged Foot is an unbelievable test and an unbelievable golf course, but it was miles, miles harder than Harding Park [site of last month’s PGA], and it definitely showed, not only today but throughout the week.
“Even when the weather was good, the scores were still high. I think the biggest thing I’m going to take from it is just I have to stay really patient because there’s a lot of times out there that I kind of hung my head, and that could have been the difference between two, three shots.”
To win at a brutal Winged Foot — the scoring average on Sunday was 74.9 — with the pressures of a major … well, that would’ve been no easy task.
As Jason Day said afterward when asked about the course’s toughest stretch: “Walking to the first tee. You have to play the 18 holes.”
Wolff found that out on Sunday. He bogeyed three of the first eight holes. An eagle at the ninth — after DeChambeau did likewise — kept him in the game heading to the final nine holes.
But a bogey at the 10th ended all momentum, and DeChambeau never wavered, increasing his lead as Wolff could not mount any pressure.
“I don’t think it was nerves that were holding me back,” he said. “I just think it wasn’t meant to be. It’s the U.S. Open. There’s a lot of breaks out there that probably could have — a foot or a couple inches more, and I have a different lie, or it stays up on a ridge or things like that are three, four shots. If I’m that much closer to Bryson coming down the stretch, I’m sure he feels a little bit more pressure.
“He played really well. To watch it firsthand, I have to agree.”
Wolff played pretty well, too. He has a victory at the 3M Championship last year. He tied for fourth at the PGA and was second at the U.S. Open. That means just four players have been better in the two major championships he has played.
Next up is the Masters at Augusta National, for which Wolff’s game should be perfectly suited. First-timers there typically have some issues, but who knows? Wolff seems to be adjusting to these major venues just fine, even if Sunday did not turn out the way he had hoped.