By Andrew Both
SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Reuters) - Nine months after finishing runner-up at the U.S. Open, Matthew Wolff returned in style from a mental health break, shooting one-under-par 70 in the opening round at the national championship at Torrey Pines on Thursday.
Wolff has already won more than $5 million in two years as a professional, but the money was of little consolation as he found himself in a bad place while plying his trade on the PGA Tour earlier this year.
Suddenly bereft of form and confidence, he hit a low point at the Masters in April, and two weeks later after missing the cut in New Orleans decided to down tools until he felt better.
"At the Masters, I think that was pretty much the turning point," said the 22-year-old Californian.
"The entire time my head was down and I hated it. I mean, I want to try to be strong for all the fans, but I guess I just am not that strong yet, but I'm trying my hardest and I'm getting there."
Wolff acknowledged it might be difficult for fans to understand the psychological battles that professional sportsmen and women often face, given the glamorous life they seem to lead.
"Any professional athlete has to deal with a lot more stress and pressure than most people realise and it just kind of got to me," he said.
"So many millions and millions and millions of people would trade me in a heartbeat ... unless you're actually a professional athlete or playing a sport, you just don't know the emotions that come along with it and how much you want to please everyone and play for your fans and on top of that make money."
Wolff decided to return to competition this week because he believes the break has helped, and that his long-hitting game and ability to gouge the ball out of long rough is suited to a U.S. Open.
He was pleased with his score, but even more delighted to enjoy his day in the office.
"I'm really just trying to learn and build and really mature," he said.
"I mean, I'm only 22. Don't they say the brain evolves at like 25 or something like that?"
(Reporting by Andrew Both; editing by Richard Pullin)