JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Matthew Wolff already captured the hearts of social media in February when he made his PGA Tour debut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. On Thursday at the Northern Trust, he also grabbed the full attention of one of the best players on the planet: Jordan Spieth.
Well, one of the former best players on the planet if you’re judging off this season. Spieth, once the No. 1 player in the world, has fallen to 38th. He entered the week 69th in the FedEx Cup standings, an unheard of position for a man who won the FedEx Cup in 2015 and finished second two years later.
But it’s Spieth’s slump that brought him and Wolff together on Thursday, as the players are paired based on where they are in the standings. Wolff checked in at 70th, reaching that mark in just a handful of starts thanks to a victory at the 3M Open. While Wolff is the one in far better form, Spieth nipped him in the opening round, posting a four-under 67 on a windy afternoon in Jersey City. Wolff finished with a two-under 69, an eventful round that featured seven birdies, three bogeys and one double bogey.
“It was great. Matt’s super nice, extremely talented as we all know,” said Spieth afterward. “We had a great time today. That was the first time I’ve ever played with him. I got to know him a little bit just in passing here or there.”
The three-time major champion got to know his game as well, and he liked what he saw. Even with a handful of dropped shots, Wolff remained aggressive, which had Spieth feeling envious.
“It’s incredible what he’s done. I told him, ‘man, that’s just amazing what you’ve been able to do, and certainly ride that momentum.’ I love how aggressively he plays. It’s cool. It’s kind of like how I used to play a little bit more that way and I kind of need to get back into that.
“He’s a really exciting player I think for people to go watch. He’ll be somebody that if you’re going to watch a golf tournament, you may go watch him play. Certainly it’s unique, but it’s also aggressive and it’s good entertainment for sure.”
Confidence, Spieth says, is the key. In a very short period of time, Wolff has shown he certainly doesn’t lack any of it. There was a time that Spieth didn’t either, but it’s clear he’s lost a bit of it these past two seasons, this one especially. That’s something very few players, Spieth being one of them, would even admit to.
“Wish I knew the answer and I wouldn’t have [lost it]. I think certainly when you have the confidence and you’re playing well, you tend to play more aggressively. You just have that confidence in your game and everyone goes through spurts out here where you’re just not on, and sometimes that gets taken away from you a little bit, that freedom, that aggressive mentality, until you really start to feel on again.”
Spieth showed a glimpse of being “on” again last week at the Wyndham Championship, opening with rounds of 64 and 67 to get himself into contention heading into the weekend. On Saturday he posted a 77, sending him home early with a dreaded MDF (made cut, did not finish), which will no longer exist on tour next season. While that seemed to signal a larger problem with Spieth this year (he ranks 172nd on tour in third-round scoring average), he insisted it was just one of those days.
“Saturday was just a fluke day that would have happened whether I was number one in the world or not. Everybody has those random days once, twice a year where you wanted to forget them. I just owed it to that and put me in a better frame of mind.”
Fluke or not, Spieth can’t afford for it to happen again over these next few days, or his season will be over. To avoid that, he may need to channel his inner Wolff.