"It's f--king hard" - Returning Matthew Wolff details mental health struggles

Matthew Wolff

It’s not lost on Matthew Wolff how lucky he is.

He's well aware that “many millions and millions and millions of people” would trade lives with him in a heartbeat.

Extraordinarily talented, travelling the world, playing its best golf courses, being handsomely rewarded for the privilege, and with a long, lucrative, successful career seemingly ahead of him? He gets it. He’s a lucky man.

But just that - a man. As vulnerable to the peculiarities of confidence and the vagaries of conviction as anybody else.

Wrestling with those is what prompted the 22-year-old to press pause on his blossoming career two months ago.

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A missed cut in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at the end of April was the final straw. It had been preceded by a bizarre disqualification from The Masters, a withdrawal from the WGC-Workday Championship after a first round 83, another WD from the Farmers Insurance Open in January, and only six cheques since he finished second in the COVID-delayed US Open last September.

As April gave way to May, he had banked $2million for the season but he wasn’t happy. Not even a little. So he put down his clubs and walked away.

“It was a hard decision because I'm so new on the tour and it's my first or second year,” he admitted. “I didn't think I could, to be honest. Then then when I finally started to get to a bad enough spot, honestly I was like, you know what, I need some time.”

For the last two months, Wolff has barely watched golf, far less played it. Instead, his focus has been on “trying to get myself to enjoy myself again and be happy.”

This week’s US Open marks his first start since New Orleans. The so-called ‘Toughest Test In Golf’ might not seem like the most obvious place to return for a man who has been fighting fires within, yet here he is, lying one-under at Torrey Pines after opening with a 70.

“I just figured if I shoot 78 there's going to be a lot of people that do it as well, so I won't stand out quite as much,” joked Wolff. “But, I mean, no, I just felt like this was a good time to be back. This course sets up really good for me. I think the US Open is the hardest test in golf and I feel like I hit the ball pretty far and I can get it out of thick rough.

“It was not an easy decision to come back at this time, but I thought it was the best thing. I talked with my team and I'm glad that I did.”

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He added: “After coming off of a break like this when you're struggling this much mentally, I don't know if there's ever a right time to come back and maybe that right time is way down the road, but I kind of told myself, I'm like, Dude, I've been making progress on enjoying myself and lightening up a little bit and accepting the bad shots, because everyone hits them, and, I don't know, I just, I just want to be happy, man. That's pretty much all it is.”

Wolff added he has taken strength from other athletes in other sports detailing their own mental health struggles.

“I needed to just kind of get back and be like, Dude, you live an unbelievable life, like you don't always have to play good. I know I want to, I want to always play good, I want to always please the fans, but the more I've been taking a little bit of time off, the more I just realised I was like, I just need to enjoy myself and be happy.

“Mental health is a really big problem. Any professional athlete has to deal with a lot more stress and pressure than most people and it just kind of got to me. But I've been working on it, I've been learning and I think that's all I can do.”

Wolff also revealed how his professional struggles have impacted his personal life.

He said: “My girlfriend Kim, she's been -- I mean, obviously it's hard, I come back from the golf course and I'm in a just shitty mood and she's just trying to put a smile on my face and I don't want to deal with it. 

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"And it's been hard for her, hard for me, hard for everyone around me, but I mean, the strength that everyone has on my team and the, not only the strength, but the confidence that they have in me is, I couldn't even ask for a better team.

“In college golf, if you shot 78, you go back and your coach would pay for your food and you would be chilling, because you were on a full-ride scholarship or whatever, you know what I mean?

“But you come out here, you miss five cuts in a row and you're like, Damn, I haven't made a paycheck. And it's just a lot. And it's really hard.

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“I mean, kudos to pretty much every professional athlete out there. I haven't been in this world for a long time, but it's fucking hard.”

Wolff knows he has a long way to go to rediscover – or even perhaps discover – the person within that he longs to be. Days like today, however, should help. He had eight birdies, three bogeys and two doubles. A mixed bag, sure, but a score that ended up on the right side of par. At the US Open, you can’t ask for much more.

“You really have to focus on and commit and prepare on every shot and I felt like I did that really well today,” he added. “There was a lot of good and a lot of bad, but I enjoyed myself which was most important.

“That's kind of what I'm working on and the most important thing for me regardless of how it goes out there. I just want to make sure that I'm enjoying myself and enjoying my time out here because it's awesome to be out there.” 

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