Matthew Wolff should hold his head high. He shot 10 strokes higher on Sunday than he had a day earlier in his brilliant third-round 65, the one that lifted him to the 54-hole lead of the 120th U.S. Open.
But he put up an admirable fight before succumbing to Bryson DeChambeau, who was the only player in the field to break par on Sunday.
“I played really tough all week. I battled hard. Things just didn’t go my way,” said Wolff, a 21-year-old second-year pro, who finished at even-par 280. “But first U.S. Open, second place is something to be proud of and hold your head up high for.”
Indeed, it was. No less than Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner, sung Wolff’s praises. McIlroy knows what it is like to be the young kid trying to make history and experience a deer-in-the-headlights moment. McIlroy blew up to shoot 80 and squander the lead with nine holes to go at the 2012 Masters.
Of Wolff’s 75, McIlroy said, “That’s not that bad. It’s not as if he blew up like I did.” It was also better than Tom Watson, who in 1974 was 24 years old and shot a final-round 79 at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot playing in the last group as the 54-hole leader. He rebounded to win eight majors titles.
“I thought that if he went out there in today’s conditions and shot a couple over par, that he’d win the tournament,” McIlroy said. “Look, it’s a tough one. He’s a good kid. He’s resilient. He’ll have plenty of more chances.”
And that’s what Wolff should take from his runner-up finish. Bogeys at Nos. 3 and 5 combined with a DeChambeau birdie at the fourth erased his two-stroke lead and left Wolff playing catch up. Both players made bogey at eight, and Wolff showed his resilience by pouring in an eagle putt on top of DeChambeau, who drained a 40-footer moments earlier. It turned the back nine into match play, and DeChambeau’s game was just a bit sharper. Wolff’s putter picked a bad time to cool off. He missed a critical par putt at 10, dropped another stroke at 12 and a double-bogey at 16 sealed the deal.
“I think the biggest thing I’m going to take from it is just I have to stay really patient because there’s a lot of times out there that I kind of hung my head, and that could have been the difference between two, three shots,” Wolff said. “Then at the end of the week, like I said, if I’m two, three shots closer to Bryson coming down the stretch, it’s just a different story. It’s the longest week of golf that I’ve ever played, and something that I’m going to know for the future, and next time I play, I’ll just know that it’s going to be a really long week and a marathon, and I just have to keep my head high. “
Asked if nerves got the better of him, Wolff said, “I don’t think it was nerves that were holding me back. I just think it wasn’t meant to be.”
Zach Johnson, a veteran with two major titles on his mantel, was asked what advice he’d give Wolff: “Leave this parking lot with the positive. He’s going to slice and dice today, and he needs to really focus in on some of the things that he did the previous three days, I think more so than today.”
Wolff may have only played two majors — he finished T-4 at the PGA Championship last month — but he already sounds like a savvy veteran. “I’m just excited to learn from this experience,” he said, “and it’s definitely not the last time that I’m going to be in this spot.”