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The kids are alright: Morikawa, Wolff shattering learning curve

Collin Morikawa and Matt Wolff

Just two weeks ago, Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa were seated in an interview room in Hartford, being introduced to the media as the future of the PGA Tour.

They’re looking a lot more like the present.

Wolff and Morikawa will go off in the final pairing Sunday at the 3M Open, where they share the 54-hole lead with Bryson DeChambeau.

They’re both playing on sponsor exemptions this week. Morikawa is making his fourth start as a professional, Wolff his third. And they’re each one good round from locking up their first PGA Tour victory and securing full-time status through the 2020-21 season.

It’s increasingly become the norm in recent years for newly minted pros to contend and even win right away. Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and the famed high school Class of 2011 have taken over the Tour, and now here are Wolff, Morikawa and the rest of this year’s rookie class, who aren’t exactly sweating the big stage.

It’s taken Wolff, for example, just a few weeks to find his footing. The lesson he learned in less than a month? There’s no need for reverence or caution.

“The last couple weeks I think I’ve been a little too strategic,” he said. “I got to this week with my team and I said, ‘You know what? I’m just going to rip driver and just send it.’

“I just learned that, you know, these guys are obviously really good like all the PGA Tour commercials and stuff say. But at the end of the day, I belong out here and I don’t need to change anything in my game to play with the guys out here. I think that’s what I struggled with the first couple weeks. I was always trying to look for that little extra something, and I feel like this week I’ve really just been myself and it’s worked out.”

Wolff, 20, has of course always been himself. That’s his big draw. With his unique golf swing and outgoing personality, he became an Instagram star during his career at Oklahoma State.

The kid with the funky swing was leading a Ventura County junior event – again – and the local head pro finally decided to intervene.

Morikawa, the 22-year-old out of Cal, carries less social-media fanfare – he just joined Twitter a couple of weeks ago – but is no less talented. He finished 14th in his first pro start at the RBC Canadian Open and has made four straight cuts, including a tie for 35th at the U.S. Open.

“Yeah, I mean, it is golf out here,” Morikawa said Saturday. “It’s on a lot bigger stage, but our games played very well throughout the spring. We’re going to have to control our nerves, remember who we are, what brought us out here.”

Wolff is the reigning NCAA Division I individual champion and Morikawa a former World Amateur Golf Ranking No. 1. They grew up near each other in California and have been competing against one another since high school. In that sense, Sunday won’t feel all that different.

“Yeah, no, that’s really exciting,” Morikawa said. “We’ve had a few rounds together, especially coming down the stretch. It’s just a lot of fun. So to see him playing well, to see Justin [Suh], Viktor [Hovland], all of us playing well this week for the most part, it’s really exciting to see where we’re going to take it.”

Somehow, DeChambeau, who was himself the NCAA individual champion just four years ago, will play the role of the grizzled veteran at the age of 25. He’s already a five-time Tour winner and a prime example in his own right of a kid who showed up ready to compete right away.

Not to be lost in this conversation is 20-year-old Joaquin Niemann, another ex-No. 1 amateur who will enter Sunday three shots back and not old enough to buy himself an adult beverage in the United States. Just like Wolff and Morikawa are doing now, Niemann came to the PGA Tour last year, chasing status and taking advantage of sponsor exemptions. He was so good so fast that he managed to secure his 2018-19 PGA Tour card in only eight starts. He, too, will hunt his first professional win Sunday on a TPC Twin Cities track that’s given up three rounds of 62 this week — one of which was to Wolff.

Maybe Sunday won’t be the day for any of them. Maybe DeChambeau or Hideki Matsuyama or Charles Howell III will channel their experience into a victory.

But no one would be surprised to see Wolff, Morikawa or Niemann walk away a winner, least of all themselves. It was Wolff who said back at the Travelers that he wouldn’t have turned pro unless he really believed he could win on Tour.

He’ll have his first chance to prove it Sunday.

“These guys are really good, and I know I’m really good,” he said, “so it’s going to be fun.”