RIVIERA MAYA, Mexico — Matthew Wolff’s off-course journey has been covered ad nauseum. Articles and interviews and podcasts, including on this very website. It has largely been cited, including by the man himself, as the source of a slump that’s on its very last legs, if not already vanquished. But mental-health struggles don’t cause bad golf shots. At least not directly. Bad swings produce bad golf shots. Granted, a cluttered mind drastically increases the likelihood of a bad swing, but the ball reacts to the club and the club only.
We know what was wrong in Wolff’s head because he’s told us. He tied up his self-worth in his scores and couldn’t enjoy the life he always dreamed of living. It all resulted in a hard-to-watch spring and a summer sojourn back to his happy place in Oklahoma. He returned after two months with a smile on his face but too many bogeys on his card. Bad habits had taken hold.
Even so, Wolff is a supremely talented 22-year-old with a sui generis swing you can’t stop watching. The bad shots/habits were never going to be permanent. Armed with a healthier outlook and a reignited love of the grind, he and George Gankas, his coach and mentor of a decade, got to work.
“He just got his setup a little better,” Gankas told Golf Digest on Friday, after watching his pupil stake himself to a two-shot lead halfway through the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba. “He was bent over and lock legged, so we got him a little more knee bend. Got him a bigger shoulder turn. His right arm’s a little wider and he’s flexing his left wrist and rotating. It’s quite a bit, but we’ve been doing it over last two and a half months. It’s been good.”
Hell yeah it has. Wolff was unlucky—and not just PGA Tour “unlucky,” but genuinely unlucky—not to win his last start, at the Shriners Children’s Open. He spent the three weeks between Vegas and Mayakoba at home, sleeping in his own bed and working on that setup. It’s working, with a capital W. Wolff followed up a course-record-tying 61 with a three-under 68 on Friday at El Cameleon Golf Club to enter the weekend two clear of Scottie Scheffler and three ahead of defending champion Viktor Hovland and Mexico’s own Carlos Ortiz.
“I’ve been working really hard on just controlling the things that I can control. You’re always going to make bad swings out there and—well, not always, but it happens, and you can’t control that. Setting up well, picking the right club, feeling confident before you hit the shot, those are all things that I can control.
“We’ve definitely been working on a few things, but I think for the most part, when I get out in tournaments, when I play the best, I don’t really have too many swing thoughts.”
Remember, Gankas is the teacher. Wolff’s the player.
“I’m just making sure that my setup feels the same shot in and shot out, and from there, I just let it loose and I tell myself not to really, you know, guide it out there. As soon as you do that, that’s when you hit some errant shots. I feel really good with every part of my game and I just tell myself, go out there, swing it hard and find the ball.”
The lead actually swelled to four at one point before Wolff bogeyed two of his last three holes, the second coming after a par putt that looked perfect the entire way and kissed the low-side lip but didn’t fall.
Wolff showed zero signs of disappointment after the round, for he has the lead in a PGA Tour event being played in a dreamy resort in Mexico. The weekend plan is simple: commit to the shot, set up properly, hit it hard and find the ball.