Fans know Woodland as a solid golfer with a brilliant long drive. Unfortunately, he’s also defined by middling performances at majors. He failed to break into the top 10 in any majors until 2018.
The 35-year-old took down defending champion Brooks Koepka at the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Woodland entered the final round-up one stroke, finishing with a three-shot lead.
Koepka’s hopes for a three-win streak, instantly dashed. After years of developing his chops, 2019 looks to be the year of Gary Woodland. Here’s why.
How a college basketball player became a pro golfer
Woodland’s high school days were all about sports. The multi-talented athlete played baseball at shortstop, earning the leadoff hitting spot. But, basketball took up most of his attention and time. The accomplished young guard, like so many accomplished basketball players, played golf on the side.
As a high school senior Woodland won several regional amateur golf tournaments, including the state amateur championship. He grew up mostly going for long drives to compete with his friends. In competition, he discovered a knack for the finer aspects of the game.
He joined the Division II basketball team at Washburn University. Woodland did reasonably well there, known for his accurate long-range shooting. Yet his time on the school’s golf course garnered the most praise. His 400 plus foot drives quickly became the talk of the golf community in the area.
Within a year, Woodland knew he was meant to play golf, transferred to Kansas University, and put his full focus on the sport.
Cutting down on power became Gary Woodland’s strength
Gary Woodland hits the ball hard and far to this day. His 309-foot average drive ranks him 11th in the tour this season. That’s a far cry from his college days, and one of the major reasons for his improved play.
Back in 2011, he changed his tee shots up. Instead of going for pure power, Woodland opts for a controlled fade. It’s a tough transition for a guy who centered his form on blasting the ball through the stratosphere since he was a kid. But, it appears to be working.
Over the course of this season, Woodland jumped from 25th to 16th in world golf rankings. He’s coming ever closer to finally cracking the highest tier of professionals. He even won his first major.
It’s all thanks to the patient sharpening of his game from explosive moonshots to 70% strength drives. Between that and his great results working with putting coach Phil Kenyon, Woodland’s game is more well-rounded than ever before.
Gary Woodland’s good heart makes him the perfect superstar
Back in January, the soon-to-be champion went viral when the PGA released heartwarming footage of Woodland with a young fellow player. He traded tips and took swings alongside Special Olympics golfer Amy Bockerstette.
The video broke PGA viewing records, with more than 5 million views. And this was before Woodland’s Pebble Beach victory. Without a single major win under his belt, Woodland was still the golfer to watch for casual and longtime fans alike.
After his win, the Today Show brought Bockerstette on to comment on Woodland’s shocking U.S. Open upset. Partway through the interview, Woodland showed up in person with his U.S. Open trophy in hand. Her elated reaction at reuniting with her favorite golfer has 25 million views so far.
Between his rapidly improving elite golf skills and his generous personality, Woodland has all the makings of being the defining golfer of 2019.