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Matthew Wolff is having fun again at the US Open

SAN DIEGO — Matthew Wolff hit rock bottom in April when he was at the Masters, arguably the most cherished golf event, and he felt utterly miserable.

My head was down all the time there and I hated it,” said Wolff, 22, who was the breakthrough star of the PGA Tour a year ago with a string of top performances that took him to 12th in the world rankings. “I didn’t like it and it was hard for me.

The Masters was pretty much the turning point.” Encouraged by other professional athletes who have spoken this year about taking care of their mental health and the excessive expectations of their jobs, Wolff decided he had to retire from golf for nearly two months.

“Seeing all these other athletes come out and be like mental health is so important and whether it’s something that’s personally going on or you’re not playing well or you’re not enjoying it,” Wolff said on Thursday after the event. shooting an under par 70 in the first round of the US Open at the Torrey Pines golf course.

“I just had to take a break.” It was Wolff’s first tournament since missing the cut at the Zurich Classic at the end of April. Wolff called the comments of athletes such as tennis star Naomi Osaka, who recently discussed her issues with anxiety and depression, a primary inspiration for his decision to take time off from competition, as well as return to the course.

“Mental health is a really big issue and we play a lot of golf or we play a lot of games and every professional athlete has to deal with a lot more stress and pressure than most people,” he said. “And I was just a little disappointed.

But I worked on it. I’ve learned and I think that’s all I can do. It’s probably something I’ll be doing for most of my career, but I’m feeling a lot better.

“It’s been helpful to know that others are talking about the same things I am – and I’ve gotten a lot of support from the fans out there. People were shouting, ‘It’s good to see you again, Matt.’

And that was great.’ Wolff was 11-over par in two rounds at this year’s Masters, then drew an incorrect scorecard and was disqualified after having shot a first round of 83 at the World Golf Championship-Workday tournament a few weeks before and retired promptly returned without mentioning an injury, which is highly unusual for tour players.

That exit followed a first round of 78 and another withdrawal from the Farmers Insurance Open. Since late last season, Wolff has played in 10 consecutive tournaments without finishing in the top 25.

In addition, Wolff’s facial expression had changed from 2020 when he usually seemed to enjoy hanging out with fans and his colleagues, and this spring Wolff played and behaved like someone who couldn’t wait to get off the track.

“I was in a pretty bad headroom,” he said. But on Thursday, Wolff smiled easily, even though his round was upside down.

He was tied for the lead at three under par at one point, but fell back to one under a few holes later. In total, Wolff had eight birdies, three bogeys and two double bogeys. “A lot of good and a lot of bad,” Wolff replied with a chuckle when asked to describe his game.

“But that’s okay. That’s golf and I enjoy it. That’s what I need to focus on. “Many millions of people would trade with me in an instant. And I just had to come back a little bit and say, ‘Dude, you live an incredible life, as if you don’t always have to play well.’ I wanted to be too perfect.

I always wanted to please the fans – sometimes maybe too much.” Wolff’s 70 on Thursday had him three strokes off early championship leader Russell Henley, who shot 67.

With half the field still the rounds, Francesco Molinari and Rafa Cabrera-Bello followed Henley by one strike. Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele, two of the favorites for the tournament, were one stroke behind them.

Phil Mickelson struggled his entire round with five bogeys and shot 75. Viktor Hovland, a contemporary of Wolff, whose impressive play has made him a major championship contender this year, shot 74.

Justin Thomas, who won this year’s Players Championship, opened with a two-over par 73. Wolff, however, didn’t look at the scoreboard, even though he was the third-round leader at the 2020 US Open and eventual runner-up to Bryson DeChambeau.

“It’s great that I played well today, I mean I’m excited,” said Wolff, adding that he hasn’t watched golf on television during his two-month hiatus. “But whatever happened today, like I said, I just had fun and I haven’t had fun here in a while.”