Tied for 33rd Saturday at 12-under par with two rounds left in the grueling six-day PGA Qualifying Tournament in La Quinta, Calif., former Kansas University golfer Gary Woodland gave himself a game plan.
“I took the par down to 68 (from 72) the last two days,” Woodland said by phone Monday, hours after earning his PGA tour card. “I knew I had to get to 20-under, and I had to knock four shots off par the last two days to get to 20-under. I hit it right on the nail.”
Woodland followed his Sunday round of 67 with a 69 to finish at 20-under. As it turned out, his guess of where the cutoff would be was off by just one stroke. Golfers who finished at 19-under or better earned tour cards.
Woodland, a native of Berryton who played basketball at Washburn University as a freshman before transferring to Kansas, moved to Dallas after finishing school in order to be closer to swing coach Randy Smith. Woodland recently moved to Orlando, but still makes trips to Dallas to see Smith.
In finishing his round Monday, Woodland relieved pressure by sinking an 18-footer on the par-4 16th hole at the Jack Nicklaus Tournament course to drop to 20-under.
“Watching that roll in was a huge relief,” Woodland said.
Q-school’s final stage took place on two courses, and the golfers alternated each day. Woodland played the first, third and fifth days on the PGA West Stadium Course, designed by Pete Dye. It was the more difficult of the two courses, which made Woodland’s 67 on Sunday such a clutch performance.
How did he keep the pressure at bay?
“To tell you the truth, I tried to revert back to the days I played basketball,” Woodland said. “I kept telling myself I made free throws when I had to make free throws, and I’ve made putts when I’ve had to make putts. I kept telling myself I’ve been here before.”
During his career at Kansas, Woodland won four tournaments and earned 14 top-10 finishes. He twice won the Kansas Amateur (2005, 2007). He consistently ranked among the longest hitters off the tee in the nation, but could perform erratically at times. Inconsistent golfers don’t make it to the final stage of Q-school, much less earn tour cards.
“It’s one of those deals, I’ve worked so hard this year, and I haven’t had the results to show it,” Woodland said. “I knew mentally I was so much better than I’ve ever been. I lacked some strategy in the past. I knew it was coming around a couple of months ago, and I was excited to keep playing.”
Woodland indicated the turnaround originated in the most complex six inches in golf, the gray matter between the ears.
“I think the first thing is that understanding that if I put the work in it’s going to pay off,” Woodland said. “Recognizing I have to beat golf courses mentally. Tiger (Woods) wins even when he doesn’t play well. How does he do that? Strategy and how strong he is mentally. I don’t want to be just another golfer on the tour, I want to be the best. If you want to be the best, you have to follow the best and do what Tiger does. You have to beat golf courses mentally.”
While Woodland was taking care of business Monday in California, a scene in Orlando and one in Lawrence on Monday afternoon weren’t much different from each other. A husband and a wife with one eye on the computer and the other eye on the television tuned to the Golf Channel. Emotional highs, nervous moments and ultimately a mixture of euphoria and relief.
Ross and Linda Randall followed the ups and downs of Woodland’s round from Lawrence. Topeka residents Dan and Linda Woodland, with their daughter C.J., tracked their son’s progress from Orlando.
Randall, now director of golf at Kansas since stepping down to make way for one of his former pupils, Kit Grove, to coach the men’s team, left work early Monday.
“I told everybody, ‘I’m gone, nobody call me. I’m going to be buried just watching this, ’” Randall said. “We were Rock-Chalking like when Mario Chalmers hit that three-pointer.”
Meanwhile, 1,200 miles away, the golfer’s family was doing the same.
“Oh, yeah, we were hootin’ and hollerin’,” Dan Woodland said. “Two laptops and a TV, and we had the time of our lives.”
Woodland became Randall’s second golfer to earn his PGA tour card. Matt Gogel, the first, retired after the 2006 season with one victory in seven years on the tour (2002 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am) and is working for the Golf Channel. Shortly after Woodland finished his six-day grind at 20-under par — golfers who finished 19-under or better qualified — Gogel interviewed him on television, a proud moment for Randall.
“I’m just ready to compete,” Woodland told Gogel. “I’m ready to get home, take a couple of days off, get back to work and get out there and compete with the best.”
Woodland said he just met Gogel this week.
“He’s been great,” Woodland said. “He gave me a lot of support, kept telling me to hang in there. I wear that Jayhawk proud.”
Woodland has a Jayhawk club-head cover and a Jayhawk on his golf bag and will continue to do so on tour, he said. He has a club deal with Adams golf and a glove, shoe and ball deal with Titleist. He and the other 27 players who earned their tour cards will undergo three days of orientation classes. Harrison Frazer was the top medalist at 32-under par. Woodland had qualified for the final stage of Q-school by passing the first stage at Dayton Valley Country Club in Dayton, Nev., and the second stage at Deerwood Golf Club in Kingwood, Texas.
After orientation, Woodland said, he will return home to Orlando for a couple of days rest before resuming practice. He will tee off as a member of the PGA Tour at the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship on Jan. 5 in Hawaii.
“We are all very happy for Gary and the potential opportunities he has opened up for himself,” Grove said. “Anytime you have one of your guys make the tour it is a great thing for your program.”