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story.lead_photo.caption Matthew Wolff won the 3M Open PGA Tour event last weekend in Blaine, Minn. In May, he won the NCAA individual title at Fayetteville while he was at Oklahoma State.

Matthew Wolff is so good, he received a vote as an Oklahoma State freshman for the Haskins Award as the best college player without even winning a tournament.

There's a little more to the story. And it starts long before Wolff went from NCAA champion to PGA Tour winner in a span of six weeks.

Scott Verplank, famous for winning the U.S. Amateur and a PGA Tour event while still in school at Oklahoma State, was in the mix at the Memorial in 2001 until heavy rain arrived and made Muirfield Village soggy and long. On the par-5 fifth hole, Verplank decided against 3-wood from 255 yards over the water.

He was playing alongside Tiger Woods, who pulled a 2-iron.

"He hit a shot like only he can hit -- straight up in the air and it drops onto the green," Verplank said. "I said to my caddie, 'I couldn't hit that shot if you gave me any club in the bag and a tee.' I couldn't sky a driver as nice as that 2-iron. That shot ... I'll never forget that shot."

Woods went on to win by seven.

Seventeen years later, Wolff walked up to Verplank at Oak Tree and introduced himself, and they played nine holes. The kid got Verplank's attention. And then a few months later with the NCAA Championship at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla., Verplank went out to watch.

He showed up on the ninth hole in time to see Wolff facing 248 yards into the 623-yard par 5.

"He hit a 4-iron and it looked like the same shot Tiger hit," Verplank said. "It landed 3 feet from the hole and rolled out a foot-and-a-half. I had only seen that one time before. Only one other player in my life had hit that shot."

Verplank had run into a member from the Haskins Award committee, who asked whether he would be voting as a past winner (1986).

He wrote Wolff's name on the ballot.

"The guy says, 'He hasn't won a tournament,' " Verplank said. "I said: 'Doesn't matter. He's the best kid out there.' "

Wolff won six times his sophomore year, including the NCAA individual title at Blessings Golf Course in Fayetteville in May, his last tournament as an amateur. He won the Haskins Award. And his NCAA individual title complemented the team title the Cowboys won his freshman year, so he turned pro.

Three tournaments later, Wolff made a 25-foot eagle putt from the collar of the 18th green for a 65 and a one-shot victory in the 3M Open last weekend. That gives him a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a schedule next year that starts in Kapalua and takes him to The Players Championship, the Masters and the PGA Championship.

And the 20-year-old Californian will be followed along with high expectations for no other reason than the company he keeps.

The first player since Woods to win an NCAA title and a PGA Tour event in the same year.

The youngest player to win on the PGA Tour since Jordan Spieth.

"Matt Wolff is potentially special," Verplank said. "He's got everything it takes to be at the top. That doesn't mean it's going to happen. Obviously, these others kids are good, too."

Not to be overlooked is Viktor Hovland, the U.S. Amateur champion and Wolff's teammate at Oklahoma State. The low amateur at the Masters and the U.S. Open, he has tied for 13th in his past two PGA Tour starts.

"People were asking me about that the last three or four weeks," Verplank said. "I said Viktor is a better player right now. He plays his game better, he's more mature. But Matt, in my opinion, has a chance to be in the Phil Mickelson-Tiger Woods level."

Photo by David Gottschalk
Oklahoma State University golfer Matthew Wolff on the fairway Tuesday, May 28, 2019, on the first hole of play during the semi final round of match play during the NCAA men's golf championship at the Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville.

Sports on 07/11/2019

Print Headline: Wolff in Tiger's clothing? Pro says yes

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