Pinehurst, N.C. — The gallery following Matt Kuchar, Gary Woodland and Andres Echavarria for their final practice holes in advance of the 114th U.S. Open slowly swelled as word spread as to the identity of the slender, well-dressed man walking stride-for-stride with Woodland down the fairway.
“I didn’t have my coffee this morning, so forgive me if this is a dumb question, but is that Greg Norman?” one woman asked.
“I didn’t know he was playing in the tournament,” another woman chimed in.
He is not. He’s trying to help Woodland play better at Pinehurst No. 2, a course that demands long, accurate drives, so that a high enough shot can be hit into turtleback greens that spit balls off the greens with alarming regularity.
A 20-time winner on the PGA Tour and two-time British Open champion, Norman, known as The Shark, had Tony Navarro caddying for him for many of those victories. Now he’s on Woodland’s bag.
“Tony saw the potential in Gary and he just wanted me to take a look at him to see if I had any thoughts or opinions,” said Norman, who invited Woodland to his house and found him to be an “easy” understudy.
Woodland already employs swing coach Claude Harmon. Julie Elion, who was walking the course with him as well Wednesday, is Woodland’s performance coach. She lets others handle the nuances of the swing and course management and works on the most important space in golf, the six inches that separate the left ear from the right.
“He’s got so much power and I hate seeing good talent go to waste,” Norman said. “I don’t tell him a lot. I talk to him about what I see because I was a power player, and some of the minor adjustments I would make. To me it’s eliminating white noise. You eliminate white noise and stay focused on certain things, you’re better off. Actually, it gets pretty easy.”
When Woodland went into a deep sand trap to work on the weakest part of his game (187th on tour with a 34.41 sand-save percentage), Norman wandered over to give feedback. At one point, when Woodland chipped in front of the green, Norman ever so-slightly realigned his shoulders.
The Shark said he considers himself a coach, not a teacher.
“Sometimes they need to make sure they work on things they can make adjustments to under pressure, the difference between a teacher and a coach,” Norman said. “A coach will be able to tell you a few of the experiences you have to go through to get where you want. A teacher will teach you something, but sometimes if you don’t understand what’s being taught, it might work on the driving range, but if it’s not working out there, how do you make a minor adjustment?”
“He was a little bit out of his setup today,” Norman said. “I’m glad I spotted it early enough to tell him. A good player will get it in three swings. If they don’t get it in three swings then they’re not getting it, right? But he can pick it up in one swing and he got it, he felt it, and the rest was pretty easy.”
Navarro saw tremendous potential in Woodland and so does Norman.
“Oh, absolutely,” Norman said. “Probably more, actually. ... His power’s phenomenal. He’s got a great touch as well.”
Woodland has made significant strides in his short game, but still grows his name as power player, as evidenced by the group he is part of that tees off today at 12:36 p.m. J.B. Holmes and Graham DeLaet also average more than 300 yards per drive.
Woodland enters the tournament ranked 22nd on the PGA Tour money list, one spot behind Garcia, one spot ahead of Jason Day, which means he’s doing far more well than bombing the ball off the tee.