Count him out as a one-and-done PGA Tour player if you like, but if you had heard the confident sound of former Kansas University golfer Gary Woodland’s voice Monday after he qualified for the U.S. Open, you might not shut the book on him just yet.
Woodland, 25, ranks 188th on the PGA Tour money list with $81,022.00 in earnings. The top 125 money winners retain exempt status. At the moment, Joe Ogilvie ranks 125th with $297,043.22. The odds weigh against Woodland, but he sounded Monday like a golfer who has released stress, never a bad thing.
“It’s been a struggle, a roller-coaster ride,” Woodland said by phone from Orlando, Fla., of his first year on the PGA Tour. “Make two cuts, miss two cuts. I played a lot early and didn’t have time to sit back, evaluate and learn from my mistakes. Week after week, I was doing the same stupid things. I’ve had the last two weeks off, and I’ve really had time to evaluate things. It’s been a big two weeks. I’m hitting the ball better. I’m hitting it so much more consistently.”
Watching Woodland win a Kansas Amateur a couple of summers ago and then watching him again in a tournament in Buffalo, I thought two things stood out. First, even by young, strong, elite golfer standards, the guy creams his drives. Second, he hunted pins more aggressively than I ever recall seeing anyone hunt them. His greatest strengths, left untamed at times have become his greatest weaknesses, he has determined.
“Hitting shots out of bounds, short-siding (greens),” he said of the mistakes he has repeated too often. “My misses were going to the wrong spots. Golf is a game of misses. You have to miss it in the right spot. I was firing at every pin, trying to make birdies, which I was doing, but I was also making a lot of doubles. You can’t play out here making doubles. I eliminated the big number today.”
The qualifier was at Lake Nona Golf Club in Orlando, now Woodland’s home course. He shot a 67 in the morning, 71 in the afternoon and birdied the 18th hole to force a playoff with Clinton Jenson. Woodland won it on the first extra hole to become the third qualifier among a field of 57.
“I played really well this morning, and this afternoon I struggled all day,” Woodland said. “I couldn’t make a putt, and then I birdied the last hole, biggest putt I ever made. It was a 10-footer. I birdied the first playoff hole, probably the toughest hole on the course. Driver, 8-iron to five feet, made the putt.”
The Open will be played June 18-21 at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y.
“This is an important one for him because he’s one of the few guys who can play a course like that. It’s so big,” said Ross Randall, Woodland’s golf coach at KU.
Woodland attributed his success to rebounding well.
“I had six bogeys, and on five of the six I birdied the next hole,” he said. “When you get in trouble, you have to find a way to make bogey. Take your medicine, make a bogey, get it back the next hole with a birdie.”
Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be good enough to consider bogey a bad result.