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Gary Woodland makes powerful history at Oak Hill
1:30 p.m. Update
Pittsford, N.Y. — Rob Horak, a local club golf professional who served as a marker (non-competing playing partner) to Gary Woodland, received big ovations from friends, family and Rochesterians with a healthy does of civic pride, and had nothing but thumbs-up about the experience.
“He’s a real gentleman,” Horak said of Woodland. “Really a fun guy to play with. And I got to be part of history, so that was great.”
The history Horak referenced was written by Woodland on Oak Hill Country Club’s signature hole, No. 13, on Sunday, the final day of the PGA Championship. Woodland became the first player in competition to reach the green in two on the 598-yard par-5 hole.
I can attest first-hand that Horak has played with far less talented athletes than Woodland. Robbie and I were grade-school basketball teammates at Christ the King in Irondequoit, N.Y., like Pittsford, a suburb of Rochester. He was a year behind me in school and light years ahead of me in golf ability. (I also learned from another former grade-school teammate that Robert Streb, PGA touring pro out of Kansas State, is the son of Dave Streb, my former high school freshman basketball teammate. Small world. Cursed by his genes, my son shot a 140 this past week during a vacation round we enjoyed thoroughly.)
Woodland was in last place, 75th, and was the first to tee off. Since that’s an odd number, he was left without a playing partner. He climbed out of last by shooting an even-par 70.
Pittsford, N.Y. — It has been 45 years since my oldest self-made horrifying golf experience took place and today I return to the scene of the shame. My late, great father, John Keegan, took my brother Jim and me to the 1968 U.S. Open at Oak Hill.
Everything was fine until my father handed me a cardboard-and-glass contraption known as a periscope, so that I could get a better view of Lee Trevino on the green. The gallery grew more quiet than a Turner Gill Kansas football season as Trevino stood over a putt. And then I dropped the periscope and every angry eye in the place turned on me and the crash was so loud Trevino had to step away from the putt and retrain his focus.
Trevino looked into the crowd, smiled, returned to the putt, drained it and went on to win his first major.
My brother reminded me — he remembers things better than I do and I attribute that to me having more interesting moments packed into my 54 years than he does his 55 — that on hole No. 13, he, a stranger and I pointed out Jack Nicklaus’ ball to him and the Golden Bear acknowledged us.
Anyway, it’s the other end of the leader board that brings me back to the finest golf course in my hometown, one I still have not played and therefore haven’t brought to its knees. Gary Woodland, the only golfer in KU history to win two PGA events, earned exempt status through 2015 last weekend with his victory in the Reno-Tahoe Open, the tournament with the funky scoring system, one that rewards risk-takers. Woodland starts today in 75th place, last among those who made the cut. Golfers play in twosomes the final day and since 75 is an odd number, the player in last place has to play alone.
Woodland tees off at 7:25 a.m. Central time. He is 13-over par, three strokes behind 74th-place Phil Mickelson and 22 strokes off the pace set by Jim Furyk. I’m off to the first tee to walk 18 holes with Woodland. Someone has to keep him company, might as well be me. I’ll check back in after he’s done. Woodland has the option of playing with what is called a marker — typically a scratch golfer who is a member of the host golf course — or playing alone. If he’s alone, it will be interesting to see how quickly he plays the round.
Woodland shot 73-70-80 in his first three rounds.