Matthew Wolff wins the Aon Risk Reward Challenge

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The PGA Tour’s 2020-21 regular season is in the books. It was unpredictable and exhilarating, filled with remarkable highs and gut-wrenching lows. For third-year PGA Tour player Matthew Wolff, it’s been a year like no other.

Wolff, 22, kicked off the wraparound season in style with a runner-up finish last September at the 2020 U.S. Open and followed it up with a tie for second place at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Fast forward six months to April 2021, he stepped away from competitive golf to focus on his mental health. In June, Wolff returned to the Tour at the U.S. Open with a better sense of self and tied for 15th. He’s feeling better and “having fun on the course again.” Considering the obstacles, it’s remarkable that he played well enough to be in the hunt for the third-annual Aon Risk Reward Challenge, a season-long competition across the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour.

The Aon Risk Reward Challenge, the brainchild of the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour and Aon, a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions, highlights the season’s best decision-makers on each Tour. Its format? At each tournament, the golfer’s two best scores on the designated Challenge hole will count (minimum 40 rounds). It’s winner-take-all, and the player on each Tour with the lowest average score to par pockets the $1 million prize and the Aon trophy.

With two regular-season tournaments remaining, the PGA Tour paused last month for the Olympics. At the time, Wolff had climbed to the top spot of the Challenge, followed by Louis Oosthuizen, Joaquin Niemann and Cameron Smith. After the Olympic break, Wolff continued his stellar play at the World Golf Championships – FedEx St. Jude Invitational. The Aon Risk Reward Challenge hole, No. 16 at TPC Southwind, is a reachable par-5. In Round 1, Wolff overpowered the 511-yard hole with a booming 316-yard tee shot (which, coincidentally, was his average driving distance for the season). From 195, his 8-iron approach led to a two-putt birdie. Oosthuizen kept pace with birdie while Niemann settled for par.

The hole was lengthened to 539 yards in Round 2. Wolff belted his drive 305 yards into the right side of the fairway. With his second shot, Wolff made the decision to go for the green, a strategy that was familiar for Matthew throughout this year’s Challenge (55% GFG on ARRC par-5s) at a widely successful rate (45% success rate when GFG on ARRC par-5s). His 4-iron shot from the rough ran through the green. He played a delicate chip with the 60-degree lob wedge from light rough to three feet past the pin and drained the birdie putt. Wolff’s recipe for success: Better decision-making and rock-solid execution. Both Oosthuizen and Niemann could only muster par. Wolff’s final tally at St. Jude was 2-under par. Both Oosthuizen and Niemann (birdie in Round 4) notched one-under for the week. On the strength of a two-under-par performance, Cameron Smith climbed from fourth place to second. Niemann maintained third while Oosthuizen dropped to fourth.

Did it ever cross Wolff’s mind during rounds that he was on the brink of something special? (Laughing) “Absolutely. I was a little more nervous knowing they [Aon holes] mattered more than the rest of tournament,” said Wolff. “It was nerve-wracking stepping up on those tees and trying to make the putts, knowing it could turn into something really big.”

Wolff had a commanding position going into the final event, the Wyndham Championship. “It was a comfortable lead, but I knew it wasn’t impossible to lose,” he said. Smith chose not to play but still had a mathematical chance to overtake the leader if Wolff’s best two scores totaled two-over par on the 545-yard par-5 15th hole at Sedgefield CC. Niemann wasn’t in the field either, and Oosthuizen withdrew due to injury prior to Round 1, guaranteeing they’d finish behind Smith.

As it turned out, Matthew Wolff made a routine par in Round 1 and a birdie in Round 2 to clinch the Aon trophy and $1 million payday. He didn’t do it alone. “In this Challenge, as in business, the ability to leverage insight and information, as well as support and advice from your team, leads to better decision-making,” said Eric Andersen, President, Aon. “Matthew was able to see the bigger picture, put everything together, and won the Challenge because of it.”

After clinching the title, the champ reflected on his accomplishment.
“I’m honored and excited to win the Aon Risk Reward Challenge, which recognizes not only performance but also consistent, strategic decision-making,” said Wolff. “It’s no secret that the harder the hole or course, the more I like it so each week I focused on making the right decisions when it mattered most, which paid off in a big way. It’s an awesome way to end the regular season.”

Well done, Matthew.