After finishing in the top five of last year's PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, Matthew Wolff withdrew from this year's PGA Championship at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island on Tuesday evening. Wolff, currently ranked No. 27 in the world, would have been teeing it up in his fifth major championship (he finished in the top five in each of his first two).
Wolff is replaced in the field by Tom Hoge, who is currently ranked No. 108 in the world. And while it certainly brings the overall strength of field down -- the PGA prides itself on trying to have all of the top 100 players in the world in attendance at its preeminent event -- Wolff was no more likely to win this time around than Hoge is now that he's in the field.
It's been a very strange 2021 for Wolff, who has no top-20 finishes but two withdrawals and a disqualification from the Masters in April. He shot an 83 in the first round of the WGC-Workday Championship before withdrawing, and was disqualified from the Masters after signing an incorrect scorecard. There has been much consternation over Wolff's issues and why he's laboring through a tough second full year on the PGA Tour, but as with most stories, this one seems multifaceted.
It's not a huge surprise that someone as extroverted as Wolff would get hit in the face with the lonely reality of life as a professional golfer; it happens to pretty much everyone, but especially to the great ones. There's a great story about Rory McIlroy's first foray as a pro when he cried in Korea in his hotel room with only a box of Pringles at his side because he was so lonely and thrown off by his new life. It seems as if a slight injury to Wolff's hand may have compounded his issues (also, his swing does look a bit different than it has in the past). Over the last six months, Wolff has statistically been the worst driver of the golf ball of anyone in the top 150 in the world. By a longshot.
I came across Wolff a few times at the Masters a month ago before he was disqualified. His body language was about as bad as it gets on a golf course at a major championship. When you combine that with a normally electric personality that is off the charts (and, I would argue, one of his great gifts), it's easy to be concerned about Wolff's trajectory. Chatter behind the scenes is that golf is not very fun for him right now. It's easy to see, if you've been paying attention, and it's easy to see why.
However, remember the Rory Pringles story. Growing up is hard, but growing up as a famous athlete is standard deviations harder. Wolff just turned 22 a month ago, and his future on the PGA Tour is fairly secure in the near future given his win two summers ago and his current world ranking. Rory eventually adjusted to this new and very strange life, and hopefully Wolff will, too.
It won't come at the PGA next week, and it might not happen this year. But the talent is too overwhelming and the personality is too gregarious for him to stay where he's at. Wolff will adjust at some point; he'll figure out what's going on with his game and his body and his mind and course correct to where he should be once again, which is one of the great players in the world in a sport seemingly stacked with them.