For Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland, their new lives began this week at the Travelers Championship.
Pillars of Oklahoma State’s dynamic men’s golf program, Wolff and Hovland are making their professional debuts this week, officially establishing golf as their profession.
By inviting the two former Cowboys along with former University of California golfer Collin Morikawa and former Southern Cal standout Justin Suh, both of whom have a handful of professional starts on their résumés, the Travelers Championship is continuing its legacy of giving rising stars a starting point in their new careers.
For Wolff and Hovland, making their professional debuts at TPC River Highlands provides a bit of symmetry to careers that blossomed in Stillwater, Okla., with both players expected to become fixtures on the PGA Tour.
This has, after all, been their long-term goal.
“It’s been a dream come true to turn professional. It’s something that I worked really hard on. I’m sure we all have. Going to Oklahoma State was the best decision of my life. I feel like I grew as a person and player,” Wolff said. “But I felt like my time was up there and felt like my game was ready and potentially I can be one of the best players in the world, like I’m sure all these guys do.”
Wolff, like Hovland, arrives on tour as an emerging star already, his college and amateur career having created a cult of fans captivated by his talent and charisma. Wolff won six times at Oklahoma State and capped his final season by winning the NCAA individual title by five strokes, the largest margin in 15 years. He earned both the Jack Nicklaus and Fred Haskins awards as the college’s game’s top player.
With a unique swing and uncommon power even by today’s standards, Wolff made the cut as an amateur in the Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier this year, shooting 67 in the first round.
“I think we’re all good enough and I know I feel confident that I’m good enough to be out here at some point,” said Wolff, who will attempt to earn enough FedEx Cup points while playing on sponsor exemptions to secure his full PGA Tour privileges.
“I didn’t know that Justin Rose missed his first 20 cuts, but I’ve heard before that Justin Thomas took a year on the (Web.com Tour) … Brooks Koepka went to the European Tour and Challenge Tour. You see all these guys at the top that might have started off a little slower.
“One of the best things I’ve heard is not from a player but from an agent. He kind of told me, it’s not a one-year career. It’s a 20-career career, 30-year career. You’re going to be playing this game for the rest of your life because that’s what you love to do. I am sure all these guys do as well.
“It’s something that you don’t feel added pressure, don’t put expectations on the first five or six events that you play to get your tour card, because you know you’re good enough. You know you’re going to be out here eventually.”
“This is my opinion, but I feel like I wouldn’t have turned pro if I didn’t feel like I was ready to come out here and win.” – Matthew Wolff
Hovland has heightened his profile substantially over the past year by winning the U.S. Amateur last summer at Pebble Beach then earning low-amateur honors in both the Masters and the U.S. Open this year. Hovland’s 4-under-par 280 total at Pebble Beach last week broke Jack Nicklaus’ 59-year-old amateur scoring record in the championship.
Like Wolff, Hovland has been preparing for this moment for months, years even. He has relied on the coaching staff at Oklahoma State led by Alan Bratton, along with some of the program’s most successful alums, for counsel.
“I’ve talked to Charles Howell a lot. Rickie (Fowler) has always been very easygoing with advice. Kind of been able to pick his brains a little bit. But then my coaches have been a big part of the decision,” Hovland said.
“I just mostly thought, OK, what do I want? There is no real rush about going out of here … I’ll let the game, my game, be the driver of the decision. I just figured after the years that we’ve had I thought it was about time. I was really excited about turning pro.”
Both Hovland and Wolff locked up equipment contracts and other endorsements immediately but they understand there will be an adjustment period. The structure built into college golf with a team-first focus is gone.
Now it’s every player for himself.
“It’s been a little bit different,” Hovland said. “You have more time because you’re not with the group the whole day and you don’t have to kind of, OK, wait around for your teammates to finish practice.
“You’re a lot freer in that way. Then again, there is a whole lot more people that want a piece of you. You have to almost schedule your whole day. You’re almost busier than before. So it’s a circus out here. There are so many people out here. I’m just trying to take it minute by minute.”
For both Hovland and Wolff, the Travelers Championship is the first official step in what both expect to be long careers on the PGA Tour. Both could have stayed at Oklahoma State – Hovland had one year of eligibility remaining while Wolff had two – but they felt their time has come.
“This is my opinion, but I feel like I wouldn’t have turned pro if I didn’t feel like I was ready to come out here and win,” Wolff said.
“There is no point of coming out here if you don’t feel like you can win. That’s the main goal. That’s my main goal: to win out here, win majors, become the No. 1 player in the world.
“I feel like if another year of college would’ve benefited me I would’ve stayed. My time is up, and I’m ready to come out here and compete with the best.”
Viktor Hovland smiles during his first round as a professional Thursday at the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands. Photo: Rob Carr, Getty Images
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