When you’ve won four tournaments in a row and you are ranked the No. 1 player in college golf, is a fifth consecutive victory an expectation?
No, says Oklahoma State’s Matt Wolff.
“I wouldn’t say that’s the expectation. I would say that’s the goal,” Wolff said this week as he prepared for the Prestige presented by Charles Schwab in La Quinta, Calif. “The goal is to always win. The expectation for me is to just go in there and give it my all, do my best and whatever the outcome is the outcome.”
The outcomes have been spectacular for the Cowboys’ 19-year-old sophomore this season.
Wolff, who played his high school golf at Westlake High School in Westlake Village, has won three tournaments outright and shared one title with teammate Viktor Hovland this year in helping to lead defending NCAA champion Oklahoma State to No. 1 in Golfweek’s team rankings.
Wolff is ranked No. 1 in the individual rankings, just ahead of Hovland.
Wolff wants to win more tournaments, but he says he’s matured enough from his freshman year, when he received the Phil Mickelson Award as the nation’s outstanding freshman golfer, to know that winning is only part of the college golf experience.
“I always feel like, especially now that I’ve matured, that you can always learn from every event. So instead of going in there and if I win it is a success, if I don’t it’s a failure, now I look at it in a little more detail than that,” Wolff said. “Knowing that I’ve grown from each and every tournament, even if I win by however many strokes or I even if I come in last.”
Wolff has made news for more than just his victories or his season scoring average of 67.69 strokes. Earlier this month, he played in the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open on a sponsor’s exemption, making the cut and finishing tied for 50th with rounds of 67, 70, 72 and 72. The Waste Management event might have been the first time many golf fans in the country saw Wolff and his unorthodox swing, which some critics say must be changed but which his coaches refuse to alter.
“I would say someone who says that doesn’t know what’s important in a golf swing,” said Oklahoma State head coach Alan Bratton. “You can turn your back to him and know (from the sound) that he is a good ball striker. But if you watch him, he hits his lines, hits the ball where he is trying to, knows how to change trajectories and control the shape as well.
“You’ve got to credit him for that, and his coach George Gankas, his instructor, has done a nice job of allowing him to know his own golf swing and make adjustments,” Bratton said.
Wolff says he’s pleased with his four wins in college so far this year, but the Waste Management experience was “really cool.”
“I learned a lot of things, not only just playing in that atmosphere. There are so many people there and they are all screaming and they are crazy,” Wolff said of the PGA Tour event that promotes itself as the tour’s largest party. “It was pretty nerve wracking. So just playing in that environment was a really good experience.
“But it was also learning how to manage your game a little bit more,” Wolff added. “Those guys are the best on the tour. They are so good at getting the best out of each and every game and not letting things get to them. I think that’s the most important thing.”
Wolff says he has improved as a player since his freshman year, working more on his short game and trying not to let bad shots or bogeys upset him as much as they did in the past. Bratton sees the improvements, too.
“He’s very good. He’s a very good ball striker,” Bratton said. “A very confident kid. Just fun to be around. He’s coachable. He likes his teammates. He likes to compete.”
So how did Bratton get Wolff out of California to Stillwater, Okla.? Bratton points to other California players like Bob May, Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler who were California kids who found college success at Oklahoma State.
“That goes really to the reputation of our program. As coaches we’ve gone into the state of California before,” Bratton said. “We don’t go into California for every kid, but we’ve had some success.”
Listen to Wolff and Bratton might not have needed a hard sell to get the top recruit to move to play for what Wolff calls the college golf equivalent to Alabama football.
“I don’t know that people in California are going to like this very much, but I wasn’t a big fan. There’s a lot people, everything is extremely expensive, everywhere you go it was crowded,” Wolff said. “The weather was great, but golf, you aren’t always going to get perfect weather.
“So yeah, I lived in California for 18 years of my life,” Wolff added. “I think it’s pretty easy to say I can play in perfect conditions. But it’s about learning to play on those rainy, windy cold days that I think make you a more developed, well-rounded player.”