U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Vanquished Friend Turns Around to Help Wolff Reach Final
July 21, 2017 | Andover, Kan.
By Stuart Hall
The roommates started speculating about the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship’s match-play draw soon after the bracket was finalized.
They each saw the same thing – a potential meeting between medalist and No. 1 seed Austin Eckroat and No. 8 seed Matthew Wolff in the quarterfinals at Flint Hills National Golf Club.
The matchup was made compelling by the fact that Eckroat and Wolff are best of friends and will be teammates – and roommates – at Oklahoma State University starting in mid-August.
“Unfortunately, it was earlier than we wanted,” said Wolff, who has been rooming with Eckroat at a local hotel all week. “I wish we had been able to play in the semifinals or final. I guess you could say it was the un-luck of the draw, but I also knew at some point I was going to have to play him.”
The friends did finally meet on Friday morning and, as expected, the match was taut. Through 17 holes they each were 4 under, given the usual match-play concessions, and four times the match was squared with neither player holding more than a 1-up lead. Wolff ultimately won with birdie on the 18th hole.
Eckroat, 18, who made just four bogeys over 96 holes during the week, was all prepared to root on his teammate from the sidelines. Wolff, 18, who eschewed a caddie in favor of pushing a cart all week, had other plans.
“I wasn’t going to offer, because I didn’t want to mess with his mojo,” Eckroat said. “But we were sitting there eating lunch and he asked if I was going to come out and watch. I said ‘Yeah, sure.’”
Then the negotiating began. Wolff asked if Eckroat would push his cart.
In response, Eckroat said: “There’s no way I am pushing the bag, but I will carry it. I’m just not going to be caught pushing a cart.”
Wolff relented and off the friends went to face 18-year-old South Africa native Garrick Higgo, who Wolff ousted, 3 and 1, to reach Saturday’s 36-hole final against Noah Goodwin, 17, of Corinth, Texas. Goodwin, the field’s highest-ranked player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ at No. 27, will be making his second successive final appearance.
While most of the championship’s buzz has been about Eckroat and Goodwin, Wolff should not be overlooked.
“I tied for seventh in stroke play and was the eighth seed; it’s not like I finished way down the leader board or something,” said Wolff, who shot 6-under 136 in stroke play.
Of the seven quarterfinalists ranked in the WAGR, Wolff, at No. 252, was the sixth-lowest.
Regardless of ranking, Higgo was certainly impressed.
“I’ve seen him in tournaments, and it’s a strong show,” he said. “He hits it well, putts well; very consistent.”
Eckroat offers an even more succinct assessment.
“He hits it a really, really long way,” he said.
In some respects, the Wolff-Eckroat friendship is reminiscent of the Odd Couple.
“It doesn’t make sense,” cracked Eckroat.
Wolff is from Agoura Hills, Calif., which is about a 45-minute drive northwest from Los Angeles. Eckroat is from Edmond, Okla., which some might consider America’s heartland. Wolff is outgoing and a bit more animated, whereas Eckroat is quiet and calm.
Their friendship began about two years ago when their paths constantly crossed on the junior golf circuit. Eckroat had already announced his commitment to play for Oklahoma State, which was also pursing Wolff.
“We started playing practice rounds because of that and then we went to Japan together for an event and we became really good friends,” Eckroat said.
Still, how does a California kid end up in Stillwater, Okla.?
“Everyone asks me that,” said Wolf. “I love it. I went there twice for the Ping Invitational, talked to coach [Alan Bratton], visited there about four or five times. The people in the town are unbelievably nice and welcoming.
“But not only that, Oklahoma State is a golf school. To even be wanted by one of the most historic programs in the country … it was just an honor. I don’t know how I could pass up that opportunity.”
Now he hopes to head to campus next month with the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship Trophy in tow.
“He’s a really good player, and it’s going to be a hard-fought match,” said Wolff of facing Goodwin at 6:45 a.m. CDT. “It’s really going to be competitive, probably going to have to make a lot of birdies, minimize my mistakes and hopefully I can drain a little bit more putts than I did today.
“I’ve known him for about two and a half years now. We want the best for each other, but we’re also going to go out there and try to step on each other’s throats. It’s going to be fun.”
Even more so with his good friend on the bag.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.