Matthew Wolff wields the perfect Minnesota golf swing. It’s part portable air conditioner, part mosquito repeller, and wholly suited to thumping the ball around the TPC Twin Cities.
Last year, Wolff won the inaugural 3M Open with an eagle on the 72nd hole, giving him his first PGA Tour victory at the age of 20, a month into his pro career.
This year, Wolff is trying to accomplish something even more impressive with a swing that resembles country line dance choreography: win when facing expectations.
At 21, Wolff could this weekend become as big a part of Blaine as strip malls and youth soccer fields.
Friday, he shot a second-round 65 to reach 9 under, three shots off the lead shared by Michael Thompson and Richy Werenski. Wolff managed a bogey-free round with a number of long par-saving putts and admitted his confidence at the TPC is rooted in success.
Not many 21-year-old professional athletes get to rely on a cache of experience.
“I feel like the memories that I have, the shots that I hit last year, they’re still running through my mind,” he said Friday. “As I was out there today, there was a bunch of shots that I remembered, you know, me hitting it really close or hitting a really good shot last year to the same pin.
“I think the good memories, the good vibes, all that stuff helps me have a lot of confidence not only over the shot but going on throughout the round and knowing that when the weekend comes, I’ll be, I think, a lot more comfortable than most people.”
Comfortable may never be a word that describes his distinctive swing. A righthander, he begins by twisting his torso left, in what looks like a full-body forward press. His backswing sends the club almost vertical into the air as his left heel rises.
He then produces power and timing by planting his left heel, turning his body, allowing the club to fall behind him into a more traditional swing path, and finishing his swing by driving off the ground with his legs, producing speed and power.
As unusual as the swing looks, it is repeatable and compact. It allows him to drive with his stocky legs and usually produces a high, long ball flight. He favors a fade with his driver but is capable of working the ball in either direction.
On a tour where so many players look like they’re swinging to match a computer program, Wolff unleashes his natural athletic ability with a unique motion.
He displayed his power and accuracy last year on the 72nd hole of the 3M, reaching the green of the par-5 18th in two, then rolling in a 26-foot eagle putt from just off the green for the victory.
The runners-up, Bryson DeChambeau and Collin Morikawa, have risen to prominence on the PGA Tour in the past year and each has won a tournament in the past three weeks. Neither decided to return to the 3M this year, robbing the tournament of star power and familiarity but perhaps leaving Wolff a path toward another victory.
“I’m a huge confidence player, so as soon as I play really good or string together a bunch of good rounds, I feel like I can really keep it going a lot easier,” Wolff said.
“You know, the part that I feel like has held me back a little bit was just the mental aspect. When you don’t play well, still having confidence in your game and not having those shots affect you, and I feel like I’ve done that a lot better this week. Might just be because I’m maturing a little bit.’’
He has proved a gracious champion, participating in a televised, charitable pro-am on Wednesday. As he walked off the ninth green, his final hole of the day on Friday, Vikings tight end and tournament ambassador Kyle Rudolph congratulated him, and Wolff said, “You made me nervous!”
“You didn’t seem to be bothered by nerves last year,’’ Rudolph said.
This year, if Wolff wins, he won’t need someone else to buy him champagne.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • email@example.com