Date: June 17, 2019
Author: Mark Hayes at Pebble Beach

Woodland dream comes to life

If you thought Gary Woodland would be crushed by the pressure of leading a major championship, you were wrong.

Woodland won his first US Open at Pebble Beach today – but so composed was he that you’d have sworn he’d won a dozen.

The 35-year-old stayed serenely in his own game despite a host of golf’s biggest names roaring from the pack to chase, only to fall by the wayside.

The longest and strongest of those challenges came from dual defending champion Brooks Koepka, who became just the fourth person in US Open history to shoot four sub-par rounds in reaching an exemplary 10 under par.

Remarkably, though, 10 minutes later, Woodland became the fifth in shooting 13 under – the second lowest US Open total to par behind only Rory McIlroy’s -16 at Congressional in 2011.

It seemed every challenge that Pebble Beach threw at Woodland, he had the answer.

He played great shots out of sandy divots in the centre of three fairways and he played an immaculate chip shot with his ball on the green of the 71sthole because he’d practised it beforehand with coach Pete Cowen.

He and Cowen had worked hard on tips for him to self-diagnose mid-round issues that arose during a third-round hiccup.

And it was also the Englishman who gave him the sage words that rang in his ears throughout an epic Sunday performance.

“Pete just knows what to say and when to say it. He sent me an unbelievable text this morning that had nothing to do with my golf swing or technique. He said, `Every man dies, but not every man lives – and you live for this moment’,” Woodland told his champion’s press conference.

“I thought about that a lot today. He's been great for me, but I think we're only on the tip of the iceberg.

“We were working on short game shots, but (he said), `No, I don't think you can execute that under pressure. Let's go back and do it this way, let's simplify things’.

“That's huge having him here. I didn't hit it well on Thursday. I went straight to the range and we worked for a long time to figure it out.

“And that's nice to have him here (in) huge moments and to guide me along the way. It's a work in progress. We've only been full swing (as a combination) since December. I'm hitting as good as I ever have.”

Woodland, a collegiate basketballer at Washburn University before switching to play golf at Kansas University the following year, said those hoops lessons had helped him become a better golfer.

“The moment really got forced on me. I always believed if basketball didn't work out I could fall back on golf,” he said of the switch.

“In my first game, we played Kansas at the University of Kansas. They were ranked No.1 in Division I, and we were ranked No.2 in Division II.

“And that decision got forced on me really quickly. I was guarding (future NBA star) Kirk Hinrich, and, was like, `OK, I need to find something else, because this ain't gonna work’,” he joked.

“And that was my first game in college. I was a two-time state champion, all-state, blah, blah, blah, but that was a different level.

“And so when I transitioned to golf the next year, that was the first time in my life I'd ever focused solely on golf.

“It took me a little bit, but I got out here a year after school on the PGA TOUR in 2009. It's 11 years later now being out here.

“I don't think my game is where it needs to be, but it's getting there.

“I'm becoming a more complete player, I have more shots. I can rely more on my putting, rely on my short game. Things I couldn't do even last year.

“We put a lot of work in this year in becoming a more complete player. I can play different golf courses.

“People (once) probably said a US Open wouldn't suit me, because I'm a long hitter, I'm a bomber. And coming to Pebble Beach, on top of that, it's a shorter golf course.

“But I went out and proved, I think to everybody else, what I always believed – that I'm pretty good.”