From two fairways over, nobody would mistake Matthew Wolff’s swing for anybody else’s.
The new PGA Tour champion, having won the 3M Open title in impressive style on Sunday in just his third start as a professional after grabbing the NCAA individual title only six weeks ago, makes an aggressive pre-swing shift toward the target and then hoists the club vertically over his head and way across the line—pointing it far right of his target at the top. He also saves his wrist hinge until transition, where the force of the change in direction accentuates it like the handle of a whip changing directions at the beginning of a crack.
The 20-year-old former Oklahoma State standout hits it plenty far, averaging more than 320 yards off the tee when he played in his first PGA Tour start in Phoenix in February as an amateur. (This past week at TPC Twin Cities outside Minneapolis, he only averaged 303.6 yards.) He’s also plenty precise, as attested by his record in the 2018-’19 collegiate season. He won five other times in addition to his NCAA title and had a scoring average of 68.36, the best single-season mark in college golf history. At the 3M, he tied for sixth in greens in regulation (83.33 percent) and was first in total strokes gained (3.498) and strokes-gained: tee-to-green (3.329).
Given Wolff’s record with such an unconventional style, is his swing something of an athletic anomaly or a peek into the game’s future? “He represents the past and the future,” says Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Brian Manzella. “In the old days, you’d see players like Miller Barber or Peter Senior have some of what he’s doing in their swing, but then we entered into the age of video. It’s a miracle players like Jim Furyk didn’t get the idiosyncrasies coached out of their swings. Now, we’re in the age of Trackman—and when a guy like Matthew Wolff lights up the radar like he does, it gives everybody more freedom to try different things.”
In reality, says Manzella, Wolff’s action from the top of the downswing through the finish comes right out of Tour Player Central Casting. “He looks like the classic young, strong tour pro who hits it really far. The mystery and intrigue is in the backswing. It’s one part Furyk, one part Nicklaus and maybe a little bit of Trevino flavor.”
Manzella surmises that Wolff started with his trademark move as a younger player to better manage the weight of the club on the way back, and swing guru George Gankas has enhanced the move instead of calming it down. “This was his way of getting the club moving,” says Manzella, who is based at English Turn Country Club in New Orleans. “A lot of athletic people would probably do this if they were allowed to. The one thing you’ll never do with this is come over the top. You take it out and up, get under it and drop it in the slot. You’ll never be an early thrower.”
It’s the anti-over-the-top flavor of Wolff’s swing that makes it such a good one for amateurs to copy, even if all they do is use it as a drill. “First, make sure you’re using one of your old drivers, not a new one—because you’ll be pretty wild at first and might hit one off the roof,” says Manzella. “Make some swings with that different backswing and late wrist hinge to feel that you aren’t trying to put the club in a "lag" position and try to hold it there. When the wrists are hinged in the swing, they either need to be on their way toward hinging or on their way to unhinging--never frozen or held.”
The one potential downside to Wolff’s style is its potential to make off-speed wedge shots difficult to gauge. “This will work great on the long swings, but on a partial swing—say, a 60-yard wedge shot—you probably have to alter something or change the timing,” Manzella says. “Trevino was great at those shots, although he had less going on. Nicklaus was famously not great on partial wedges, and I don’t think it was because of lack of talent. That’s where the adjustments have to come in, but Matthew Wolff is clearly talented enough to do that. The sky’s the limit for him.”