One of my favorite guilty pleasures is sitting alone in my man cave and not only rooting for Gary Woodland to keep it in the fairway, to nail his approach shots and drop his putts, but pulling for every other golfer to find the water, deep rough and steep bunkers and extending their slides with three-putt greens. Regardless of whether they’re nice guys or spoiled brats, I want them all to turn into weekend hacks so the field can open up for Woodland.
I learned Sunday that I am not alone in this regard. Plenty of people do it, and they don’t hide in their basements. They gather at Jeremiah Bullfrogs Sports Bar and Grille on SW Wanamaker Road whenever Woodland contends. When Tiger Woods winces, an indication he missed one, the crowd erupts with joy.
When the camera is trained on Woodland watching his drive, several people nervously urge him to pick up his tee, a sign that he knows he has nothing to worry about and doesn’t have to watch it come to a rest.
Woodland entered the day tied for first in the Barclays with Matt Kuchar, who faded out of contention, and stayed in the hunt right to the 18th green, despite not ever getting it together, never playing his best golf. He finished tied for second, one stroke behind winner Adam Scott.
Woodland’s putter saved him some pars early, when he wasn’t hitting the ball consistently well. Late, he made terrific shots but couldn’t get his putts to drop.
Woodland had birdie putts of less than 10 feet on each of his final three holes but couldn’t drop one. Groans greeted each miss. But when his day was done, his cap removed, his hand extended for shakes, the room broke out in applause for a game effort.
Dan Woodland, Gary’s father, joined the party midway through the round, back from a trip to Tennessee to watch a NASCAR race. Linda, Gary’s mother, was in Orlando with Gary’s sister and family. Dan and Linda communicated via FaceTime on their smart phones when their son was on the 18th green in Jersey City. Dan was smiling, Linda the picture of stress.
Dan, who never rooted against any golfer in the field, appeared to be experiencing the least stress of anyone in the sports bar packed with Woodland’s friends and relatives, including his maternal grandparents.
“I’ve always been like this,” Dan said of handling the stress of watching his son. “I had a chance to walk with Bob Tway in ’05, and I walked two rounds with him and watched how he handled his son Kevin. He never gets up on the ropes. There’s nothing he can do, and there’s nothing I can do. There’s not.”
It just wasn’t Woodland’s day, but it was another terrific weekend in a year he’s finishing on a strong note.
“We’ve done so much together,” Dan said of staying calm. “I’ve seen him make those last three putts. I would have hollered if one of those had gone in. Hey, that’s golf. He gave it his heart. Some go in, and some don’t.”
Finishing in a four-way tie for second rocketed Woodland into 10th in the FedEx Cup standings and earned him a check for $528,000. Making two of the three putts, or making one and then defeating Scott in a playoff would have earned Woodland a $1.44 million check.
Woodland’s coach at Kansas University for his first three seasons, Ross Randall, and Randall’s wife, Linda, made the drive to Topeka from Lawrence to watch the most successful golfer in KU history flirt with what would have been his biggest victory. To the coach’s trained eye, two of the three missed putts on the way to a final-round 73 were the result of misreads. Randall added that Woodland has turned what was a frustrating year into a good one with his recent work, which included winning a tournament in Reno that extended his PGA Tour exempt status through 2015.
Dan Woodland said that working with a sports psychologist has played a big part in his son’s recent play.
“It’s such a stressful, stressful sport,” Dan said. “I think any individual sport is that way. You don’t have anybody to lean on. It’s just you and the caddy out there, and, hey, you’ve got to get it done. It is stressful. You golf at this level here, and it’s a tremendous sacrifice. It’s a lonely sport. At times when you’re out there banging balls, hour after hour, you’re out there by yourself, and you have to find a way to get through that.”
A free mind leads to a free swing.
“You’re with a sports psychologist and you just open up,” Dan said. “You have to have that trust. You open up and you walk away, and you’re so relaxed: ‘Wow, I got that off my chest.’ I think that’s working for Gary right now. I don’t know what they talk about or anything like that. I’ve never asked him. But I can sure tell it’s working.”
The Barclays, which had 125 golfers in the field, was the first of the four FedEx Cup Series tournaments. The Deutsche Bank Championship (100 golfers) is next, followed by the BMW Championship (70 golfers) and the Tour Championship (30 golfers.) Woodland, who has residences in Orlando, Fla., and Lawrence, moved into 10th in the FedEx Cup points standings, which keeps him in the hunt for the grand prize of $10 million that goes to the winner.