Gary Woodland Goes For it, Takes U.S. Open
Gary Woodland just won the first major of his career by outlasting the field for four days at the U.S. Open. He’s another one of those winners we didn’t necessarily see coming. Perhaps a few did, those who noticed that Woodland set a two day record at the PGA last year, scoring 130. Perhaps someone noticed way back in 2011 when he won the World Cup of Golf with Matt Kuchar. He has won three times on the PGA Tour, including the Transitions Championship, the Reno-Tahoe Open and the Waste Management of Phoenix. All right, so he wasn’t a total non-entity before this week, but this is the U.S. Open
Woodland is in his mid-30s. The win is his first after 30 major starts. That’s why the rest of us didn’t see him coming. He doesn’t exhibit the sizzle like Zorro or a wild animal. There are no more Seves on the professional golf scene, and there is still only one Tiger. Woodland played at Washburn University and the University of Kansas. A lot of great people have come that way, but it isn’t the capitol city of Charismaville. Besides, many of the great Kansas athletes are found in basketball, which Woodland also played.
Regardless, buccaneer-style or not, good old clean cut Kansas native Gary Woodland won the U.S. Open with a demonstration of first-rate nerves. The next item to be pointed out is that he did it at Pebble Beach, the poster course for Lady Luck. Through most of that stretch of land along the sea, it either goes beautifully, or way wrong, with hefty odds leaning toward the latter. Woodland didn’t just master the field, he did it on one of the tour’s most dangerous courses. Further, he didn’t win the event by playing it safe all the time. Going into the final day trying to hold a lead, Woodland was being chased down by Brooks Koepka. For anyone who has been paying attention, Koepka won the last two U.S. Opens, and was making an excellent case for number three-in-a-row.
By the time Woodland started 14, he could see the handwriting on the wall. A tidy little game of golf wasn’t going to take home this trophy. So, in what some have called “the shot of his life,” he went for it with a 3 wood at a distance of 263 yards. My brain, of course, jumps to how far I hit the same club, and the result is both mind-boggling and humiliating. Most of us playing on the weekend don’t deal with those distances. It was a dangerous, all-or-nothing shot, later earning a twitter salutation from Jack Nicklaus himself, congratulating Woodland on a gutsy move.
Woodland wasn’t fooling himself. To the left was utter oblivion, to the right a prominent out-of-bounds, and a bunker that in the player’s words, “speaks for itself.” Length wasn’t necessarily the prize, and he didn’t find the green, but was in one of the only spots available for make birdie, which he did. That extended the lead to two strokes, a huge difference at a time like that. Woodland said afterward that he was “as good as I had ever been.” His good golf karma saved it up for one great big major win. He also mentioned the need to slow down the game in the mind, and stay within the moment. That’s a problem at all levels of competition. It’s hard to preserve the mental tempo coming into a back nine with a lead, even if it’s a municipal event for club locals.Koepka wasn’t the only danger. Justin Rose caught him early in the day, but eventually faded away as Woodland kept himself together.
Now that I think of it, with all things considered – Rose, Koepka, Pebble Beach, 3 woods, it sounds a little Zorroish after all.