Matthew Wolff made his golf return after a two-month mental health break Thursday and even a roller-coaster first round at the US Open could not diminish his enjoyment.
The 22-year-old American, last year's US Open runner-up, fired a one-under par 70 at Torrey Pines that featured eight birdies, five pars, three bogeys and two double bogeys.
"I fell back a little bit and things weren't always going good, but I'm still enjoying myself and having fun and being happy," Wolff said.
"Right now, that's what I'm working on and the most important thing for me regardless of how it goes out there. I just want to make sure that I'm enjoying myself."
Wolff can relate to athletes like Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka pulling out of the French Open and Wimbledon. He skipped last month's PGA Championship as part of his rest break and cited examples of other athletes needing breaks from the mental grind as inspiring his hiatus.
"It led me to taking time off, seeing all these other athletes coming out and being like mental health is such an important thing," Wolff said.
"Unless you're actually a professional athlete or playing a sport, you just don't know the emotions that come along with it.
"In this life, it's just so important to be happy and I live an amazing life. Millions of people would trade me in a heartbeat. And I needed to just kind of get back and be like, 'Dude, you live an unbelievable life. You don't always have to play good.'
"I want to always play good. I want to always please the fans, but I just realized taking a little bit of time off, the more I just need to enjoy myself and be happy."
Wolff said Thursday's round was theraputic and gave him confidence he lacked when the day began.
"More than the score that I shot I was just happy to actually be smiling and laughing out there because I haven't done it in a long time and it's hard to do when there's this much pressure and people and eyes watching you and stuff," he said.
"I made a huge step in the right direction and I have a heck of a long way to go, but I'm working my way towards it."
Wolff can relate to the wearing grind of trying to win week after week even after capturing his first US PGA victory in 2019 at Detroit.
"Mental health is a really big problem," he said. "Any professional athlete has to deal with a lot more stress and pressure than most people and it just kind of got to me. But I've been working on it, I've been learning and that's all I can do."
- 'Not that strong yet' -
Wolff withdrew from a PGA event at Torrey Pines in January, from a WGC event in February. In April he was disqualified from the Masters for signing an incorrect scorecard. He had poor starts in each of the events.
"I go to an event, show up and first round I'm out of it already and I would just really be in a bad spot," Wolff said.
"At the Masters I think that was pretty much the turning point. The entire time my head was down and I hated it. I didn't love being out there and like I didn't enjoy it and it was hard for me.
"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 had the fewest pars in a sub-par round on record at the US Open and his eight birdies were the most in a US Open round since 2009.
He's proving he can handle the pressure better than when he departed.
"It was really hard," Wolff said. "I think I just put too much pressure on myself.
"When I finally started to get to a bad enough spot, I was like, I need some time. The biggest thing right now that I'm trying to do is enjoy myself again and just take care of myself really.
"I live a great life and I want to enjoy it."