Pinehurst, N.C. Gary Woodland yanked his tee shot left, deep into the waste area that hugs the fairways at Pinehurst No. 2, up against a fence, in among the pine trees.
From there, Woodland’s round went backward. Literally. The only shot he could see was one that took him 30 yards backward into the fairway, so that’s the shot he hit. Four shots later, he had a double bogey.
One hole later, he had another double bogey. And on No. 9, he carded a triple bogey. For all those watching on television where the game always looks so much easier, asking, “OK, I can see one double bogey. But two, plus a triple? How can that be?”
The answer is blowing in the wind.
“It swirled pretty much the whole front nine today,” Woodland said. “It was tough to judge. On the back nine, there are a lot of flags out there. You get close to the range where there are ton of flags and there’s a big American flag on the camera tower. The back nine you can see where the wind’s going. The front nine, it gets pretty tough. We just misjudged the wind a couple of times. That’s my fault.”
Woodland carded a 40-35 75 Saturday in the third round of the 114th U.S. Open.
He lost seven strokes to par on holes 2, 3 and 9 and was 2-under par on the other 15 holes on a day he faded to 8-over par heading into today’s final round.
“All in all, tough golf course, played pretty tough today,” Woodland said. “Welcome to the U.S. Open, I guess. One mistake can calculate pretty big.”
None bigger than on No. 9, a par 3 guarded by a steep sand bunker on the left, a smaller one back right, and a wicked dropoff behind the green. In Thursday’s opening round, Woodland hit the shot he wanted and watched it get knocked down by the wind on his way to a bogey. He used too much club on Friday and escaped with a par out of the sand. Saturday, he fell way short, on a grass-and-sand mound in front of the sand trap. He popped that shot way too far and it rolled off the back of the green and down the hill. Two chips and two putts later, Woodland had completed the front nine in 40 strokes, despite two birdies.
After the wind blunder, Woodland said he turned to caddy Tony Navarro and said, “Thank goodness we only have to play this hole one more time because we haven’t gotten the wind right yet.”
Woodland also misjudged his lie, not expecting his second shot to come out so cleanly.
He said he miscalculated the wind on his second shot on No. 3 as well, thinking it was into the wind when it actually was a down-wind shot. Behind the green is no place to be on No. 3 and it took him two chips and two putts to get it into the hole, his second consecutive double.
“Outside of that, I played great,” he said of his three crucial errors (No. 2 drive, two wind miscalculations.) “It would have been nice to get a couple of putts to go in on the back nine, especially when I was giving myself a lot of chances, just couldn’t get anything to go.”
He continued his pattern for the week with one good and one bad side to his round.
“One horrible shot, the drive on 2,” he said. “Outside of that, I controlled the ball like I wanted to. I hit the ball in the fairway a lot more than I have been. It’s just one of those days. I had three big numbers that knocked me out of the golf tournament.”
The triple on No. 9 knocked him out of any thoughts of making serious noise in the U.S. Open, but it didn’t stay with him. He shook it off by scoring par on every hole on the back side. How did he keep it from snowballing?
“I just kept telling myself I was playing well,” Woodland said. “I made some changes with Greg (Norman) this week with the setup and I’m just trying to get comfortable with it. And that was what I kept telling myself. Even though the golf tournament is pretty much over for me, I’ve still got to get better. There’s no better stage to do it than the U.S. Open on the hardest golf course we’ve ever seen.”
And on Father’s Day, with his father Dan in attendance, along with Gary’s mom, Linda, his fiance, Gabby Granado, his sister C.J. and her husband Jerad Head.
Dan Woodland didn’t have to wait until today to reflect on memories of his son making him proud on a golf course.
Upon noticing that the placement of the tees on No. 7, Gary sent Navarro up the course and into the waste area to investigate the possibilities.
“I was surprised they had moved the tees up,” Woodland said. “We didn’t plan for that one. Tony ran up there probably 100 yards to see where the line was. We hit it, we thought it was right and it was on the left edge of the green. We were trying to keep it left of the green because anywhere left we could get it up and down.”
Woodland hammered the shot over the trees, a short-cut to a birdie.
Probably not realizing it was Woodland’s tee shot, the fans in the grandstand didn’t react, but not everyone missed it.
A man on the other side of the fairway, standing at the ropes turned to his friend and said, “I wonder why everyone isn’t trying that.”
Not everyone can power a ball like that, for one thing. It’s also possible nobody else thought to attempt it or didn’t have the courage.
“That was just luck,” Woodland said. “You’re trying to get it over those trees. You never played that tee. You never hit that shot before. You’re just hoping it gets in the right spot, and luckily for me, I knocked it on the green.”
It was more skill than luck. The shot emboldened Woodland’s playing partner, Daniel Berger of Jupiter, Florida, to try the same. He too executed it and found himself with a short chip shot to the green. (Berger, by the way, plays on the Web.com tour, turned pro after his sophomore year at Florida State and is the son of 2012 Olympic tennis coach Jay Berger, once ranked No. 7 in the world.)
The shot reminded Dan Woodland of one Gary pulled off at Alvamar public during a KGA Four-Ball Championship. The KGA had moved the tees up and without knowing it, gave Woodland the perfect angle to try to fly a ball through a V-like space in the trees, a short-cut that left him on the fringe.
KGA executive director Kim Richey, Dan said, turned to him and said, “Never again.”
Part of the thrill of making the cut in the U.S. Open is the opportunity for golfers to spend the day playing the game introduced to them by their fathers.
“It’s awesome,” Gary said. “He’s been everything. I wouldn’t be where I am without him. Hopefully, I can give him a good round tomorrow. We can have fun and we can fly home together tomorrow night. It’s nice to be able to share it with him. I thank him for being where I’m at.”
Where he’s at is playing for pay in the U.S. Open, thanking his father for the good shots, shaking off the bad ones.