Matthew Wolff’s mental health most important in joining LIV Golf Series

NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — There was a time in Matthew Wolff’s life when getting out of bed was more difficult than any shot he has faced on a golf course. A time when the last thing he wanted was to travel to another event and be around people and, “screw up in front of everyone.”

A time when Wolff realized money and fame had nothing to do with happiness.

That time was just 14 months ago, after Wolff, a celebrated member of the PGA Tour rookie class of 2019, already had won a tour event, finished in the top four of two majors, including runner-up at the 2020 U.S. Open, and earned more than $3.5 million in prize money.

Matthew Wolff

Matthew Wolff plays his shot from the 14th tee during the second round of The Honda Classic golf tournament. (Photo: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports)

“It’s hard when you’re out there struggling and you’ve got to play three, four weeks in a row, and you feel like you’re in a rut,” Wolff said. “You feel like you just can’t get out of it.”

Wolff sat at the podium for his first news conference as a member of the LIV Golf Series Tuesday and talked about something he had done very little of in 2021. Something he worked hard to regain after taking off two months from the PGA Tour in the spring of last year to prioritize his mental health.

“I haven’t given many interviews recently but I feel like I’m sounding the best that I’ve sounded in a long time,” said Wolff, the 23-year-old from Jupiter. “I have a smile on my face. I’m happy. I’m smiling. I mean, I feel a little different, honestly. It feels great to be here.”

Wolff made his LIV Golf debut Thursday at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club outside of Portland.

Golfers who joined LIV have done so knowing the repercussions of being aligned with a venture financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. That’s a personal decision each had to make.

And no matter the talking points they have been coached to say, the biggest reason for joining LIV is the money Greg Norman’s group is throwing around. But for Wolff, this is something he believes is beneficial beyond watching his accounts grow.

This is about finding the right balance in his life and realizing his mental health is greater than anything he can accomplish on a golf course.

Wolff had difficult 2020 Masters

Matthew Wolff Masters

Matthew Wolff tees off on the 15th hole during the second round of The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National GC. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

The first outward sign of Wolff’s struggles was at the 2020 Masters when he was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard following his second round. He played with no passion, looking disinterested according to reports. Although he had withdrawn from two tournaments the previous two months, he was dealing with a wrist injury.

After missing the cut in New Orleans two weeks following the Masters, Wolff decided he needed to work on himself more than his game.

“Mental illness or not being happy, that’s an injury, and people don’t look at it as that,” he said at the Northern Trust last August. “People look at it as – ‘oh, you’re not happy,’ or ‘you’re a little screwed up in the head, you’re just playing bad. (They say) Get over it, keep on working.’

“But it’s more than that, it’s more than just how you play. It’s about enjoying yourself. If you don’t feel right, if you don’t feel like you want to be out there … Some of the feelings that I had were like getting up in the morning knowing I had to get out of bed and just like not being able to, being like I don’t want to get out of bed.

“If you don’t feel a hundred percent right, no matter if it’s physical or mental, it is an injury. And you should be able to rehab and take your time in order to get to a place where you need to be.”

Wolff then had back-to-back top 5 finishes last fall at the Shriners Children’s Open and World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba. The results, though, have been underwhelming of late, missing six cuts in his last nine events starting with the Honda Classic in February.

But for Wolff, golf now is secondary.

Wolff playing on Phil Mickelson’s team this week

Wolff will embrace several aspects of LIV’s format. A reduced schedule – eight events this year but expected to increase to 10 next year and 14 in 2024 – 54-hole tournaments like he played while at Oklahoma State where he was the 2019 NCAA individual champion, and the team component.

Wolff is on the Hy Flyers, captained by Phil Mickelson and including Bernd Wiesberger and Itthipat Buranatanyarat.

“It just kind of gives me that perfect balance of being able to enjoy my time off the golf course and even when I’m not at a tournament, be able to go travel and work,” he said. “I feel like, honestly, because of the little breaks that we get as well, when you’re just playing one week and then you have some time off, I feel like I’m going to be excited to come to every tournament.”

Tom D’Angelo is a journalist at the Palm Beach Post. You can reach him at tdangelo@pbpost.com