Wolff hunting for more history
With his win last week at the 3M Championship, 20-year-old Matthew Wolff became the second-youngest winner on the PGA Tour in the last eight decades. Only Jordan Spieth – who won the 2013 John Deere Classic as a teenager, was younger in that span when claiming his first PGA Tour title.
Fittingly, Wolff will be teeing it up this week at the Deere with the chance to make some more certifiably absurd modern golf history.
This will be just the fifth PGA Tour start of young Wolff’s career. Since 1970, the mark for fewest PGA Tour starts needed to win twice is 13 – not by Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or Spieth – but by Robert Gamez in 1990.
At the 1990 Nestle Invitational (now the Arnold Palmer Invitational), Gamez holed out from the 72nd fairway at Bay Hill Club and Lodge to beat a stunned Greg Norman by one stroke. It was his second win of the season, and what looked like the launch of a young golf star. Gamez would win again on Tour, but it wouldn’t be until 2005 – a Tour-record gap of 15 years, six months.
The only other American player since 1970 to win twice on the PGA Tour in fewer than 20 career starts was Roger Maltbie, who won in consecutive weeks in July of 1975. It took Woods 21 total starts to win twice, Mickelson 33, and Jack Nicklaus 43. The golf world took notice with Wolff’s win last week – the entire sports world might raise an eyebrow if he wins again this weekend at the John Deere Classic.
ZACH JOHNSON AND THE JOHN DEERE CLASSIC
Babe Ruth and Yankee Stadium.
Rafael Nadal and Roland Garros.
Zach Johnson and TPC Deere Run.
Hyperbole aside, here are some of the numbers regarding the two-time major champion and the John Deere Classic:
*Johnson has shot par or better in each of his last 41 rounds played in this tournament, a streak that dates to the third round in 2008. In July of 2008, Matthew Wolff was nine years old, Dustin Johnson had never won on the PGA Tour and Padraig Harrington was the third-ranked player in the world.
*Johnson has 303 career birdies and eagles in this event since making his debut in 2002. The only player within 80 birdies/eagles of Zach in that span is Steve Stricker (3-time John Deere winner) with 286.
*Johnson is a combined 78-under par in this event over the last five years, 14 strokes better than any other player. Johnson Wagner (-64), Scott Brown (-58), and Steve Stricker (-55) are the next three names on that list.
*Johnson has made more than $3 million in his career in this event. Johnny Miller made $2.7M in his entire PGA Tour career. (Note: I understand inflation, purse changes, and the rest. It’s just a fun exercise.)
IN SCOTLAND, AN EYE ON THE OPEN
Since 1987, the European Tour has conducted the Scottish Open the week prior to The Open Championship. With the season’s final men’s major clearly in view, many of the world’s best players will be in Scotland this week looking to pick up a trophy while prepping for The Open. Among them: Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson.
Of course, Phil Mickelson won the Scottish Open in 2013 the week before claiming The Open. Three other players since 1987 have finished fourth or better at The Open the week after a Scottish win: Ian Woosnam in 1990 (T-4), Ernie Els in 2000 (runner-up) and Rafa Cabrera Bello just two years ago (T-4). Each of the last seven Scottish Open winners went on to make the cut at The Open, including Brandon Stone last year.
Great play translates to either side of the Atlantic, however – last year, Francesco Molinari finished tied for second at the John Deere Classic the week before claiming The Open. And the previously mentioned Zach Johnson did the same before claiming the title at St Andrews in 2015.
Exciting golf on both continents this week will serve as a fantastic primer for Royal Portrush.