Rory McIlroy sealed the win with a dramatic play-off tiebreaker, but it was the sport’s new Happy Gilmore that got people talking as golf made a thrilling return on Monday morning (AEST).
The $3 million charity showdown between superstars Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and American rising star Matthew Wolff delivered a fitting contest as golf returned to TV for the first time since coronavirus restrictions saw the USPGA Tour shut down on March 13.
Wolff started the TaylorMade Driving Relief skins game at Seminole Golf Club in Florida as the odd man out. By the end he seemed even odder.
The 21-year-old is already being labelled golf’s new “Happy Gilmore” with a swing that basically breaks every rule of the modern day swing that demands precision and consistency.
In a sport that thrives on the aesthetics of proper form and etiquette — Wolff is an ungainly monster.
The problem is, he’s winning.
It’s why he was invited to partner with Fowler for Monday morning’s charity match against world No. 1 McIlroy and world No. 5 Johnson.
He was playing amateur college golf with Oklahoma State University just last year.
In just his fourth tournament on the USPGA Tour last year he won.
The victory at the 3M Open in July at age 20 made him the youngest USPGA Tour winner since 2013 — and saw him join Tiger Woods and Ben Crenshaw as the only players in history to win the NCAA college golf championship and a PGA Tour title in the same year.
It sparked all kinds of whispers and scuttlebutt surrounding his unique swing — and the talk was still swirling as he walked out to face McIlroy and Johnson on Monday.
He accepts that the references suggesting he is his generation’s Happy Gilmore are fair — but he’s not going to do anything to shrug off the title.
If anything, it’s his advantage.
According to Bleacher Report, Wolff is unquestionably one of golf’s big-boppers — averaging 310 yards (283m) off the tee during the brief 2020 USPGA Tour, ranked 21 out of 231 players.
According to Golf Digest, his blazing club head has been clocked at 135 miles per hour (217km/h) mid-swing.
He also bested Johnson, Fowler and McIlroy during the long drive challenge in Monday’s showdown.
It’s hideous, but it’s undeniably the real deal.
Wolff has a freak broken collarbone incident to thank for it.
He broke the left collarbone at the age of 16 when he fell during a game of touch football.
When he returned to golf months later, he instinctively attempted to protect the injury by using significantly less shoulder rotation during the swing — as is standard across the sport.
It throws his whole rhythm out, forcing him to change everything from his backswing to his follow through.
Most notably, it forces his balance off, prompting him to take a backwards step as part of his standard follow through to counter-act his off-balance strike.
It is not pleasant, but the results can’t be argued with.
The disjointed swing is actually the source of his power, according to his long-term swing coach George Gankas, who has worked with Wolff since he was 13.
Gankas says Wolff’s unique backswing, which allows him to push off with his feet, in a squatting-like position gives him power his opponents don’t have.
That push off from his feet also makes him the ground staff’s worst nightmare, routinely cutting up the turf with his shoes and club.
“It sets him up to deliver unbelievable power,” he told Bleacher Report.
“Matt is a range destroyer,” Gankas says.
“He tears up the turf with his spikes. I can always identify the spot where he’s been practising.”
Gankas says Wolff’s swing should not be replicated, despite it’s success.
He says it works for Wolff because of his freakish athleticism and elasticity in his hips and shoulders.
But there might not be anyone else on the Tour that could pull it off.
Other commentators, including American golf great Jim McLean, can see others trying to replicate Wolff’s success.
“I absolutely think it’s starting a trend,” McLean said.
“It’s blowing up conventional swing theory. Matt’s a charismatic guy. Interesting to listen to, great personality, and he hits it forever. There’s a lot of sizzle to the whole thing. But this isn’t the first time somebody has had a swing like that. You don’t see it very often, so it feels new.”
Wolff admitted recently he would feel out of place playing against the world’s best in Florida — but the world now knows he belongs.
“I feel like a lot of people are going to tune in and go, ‘Who is this kid playing with Rory, Rickie and DJ?’” he said.
“They’re going to know by the end of the match, though.”
They certainly did.
He and Fowler combined to raise $US650,000 for the CDC Foundation — an independent non-profit charity that supports the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, winning seven of the 18 holes.
McIlroy and Johnson won a combined $US2.4 million, playing for the American Nurses Foundation.