Gary Woodland has life, golf game pointing skyward
Watching him on TV, it was obvious that Gary Woodland kept emotion at bay after he shot a 64 to become the leader in the clubhouse by two strokes and waited to see if anyone could catch him.
Woodland was on the practice range, staying warmed up, when he heard the roar of the gallery at the 18th hole, which let him know that Chez Reavie had caught him and the Waste Management Phoenix Open would be decided in a sudden-death playoff. He twisted open a cold bottle of water, took a sip, and put it back in his bag.
He showed no signs of distress when his drive on the first playoff hole went into one of the church-pew bunkers left of the fairway on No. 18 and his opponent’s was in the middle of the fairway.
Woodland won the hole and the tournament with a par and Reavie, who had birdied the final two holes to force the playoff, made bogey.
After tapping in to win it, Woodland pointed to the sky, then did his CBS interview with son Jaxon in his arms. Woodland and wife Gabby had been expecting twins but lost their daughter midway through the pregnancy.
Woodland finally grew emotional in the press tent after the tourney when discussing why he pointed to the sky.
“Yeah, that was just kind of a tribute to last year,” Woodland said with tear-filled eyes. “Obviously we lost a little girl and being there seeing my wife give birth to her, that's real and just wanted her to know I still love her.”
Jaxon was born 10 weeks premature last June and spent an extended period in the hospital.
“Obviously he's been through a lot and we just didn't want to expose him to too many people,” Woodland told reporters in the press tent. “So it's been nice to have him on the road the last five weeks. We went out to Hawaii early so I've been with him for five straight weeks which is amazing. But he hasn't been out at the courses, he's kind of been at the room all five weeks.”
For a player who went through so much last season Woodland played remarkably well in all areas except one. His putter betrayed him when he contended. It was terrific in the Phoenix Open, Woodland’s third PGA Tour victory, and has been steady all season.
Woodland had been working with noted putter Brad Faxson on his stroke early in his career and made everything he looked at on the final day in winning his first tournament, the Transitions in 2011.
“My first couple years out here spent a lot of time with Fax and played a lot of practice rounds with him and just haven't seen him much since he went to the Champions Tour, but now we're living close to each other,” Woodland said. “I spent some time with him in the offseason just trying to free me up, not really mechanically, but more mentally and the putter has been coming. Strokes gained (statistic) has been really good this year, but I feel like I can make a lot of putts and I haven't felt that way in a long time. And obviously with the way I hit it and now I'm confident with the short game, and the putter starts working, good things will happen.”
Woodland works with world-famous Butch Harmon on his swing and worked with Pete Cowen on his short game at the Shark Shootout.
Woodland, 33, won his first tournament at the age of 26, his second at 28. He had to wait five years for his third, prompting someone to ask him if he thinks he has underperformed.
“There's no doubt about that. Now, I probably got out here too soon. Obviously I came to the game late, but I got through Q-School very quickly,” Woodland said. “Fortunately I got hurt my rookie year in 2009 and I missed a year, which really allowed me to kind of adjust and adapt to being out here. I came from college, I played a year of basketball (at Washburn), four years (of golf) at Kansas, and then really got out here right away and it was an adjustment, because my game wasn't ready, I was just athletic. And I won right away in 2011, so expectations got high. And didn't play great, got hurt again in 2012 and battled injuries for awhile.”
Woodland appears to have put the wrist injuries that dogged him behind him.
“Last three years I've been healthy,” he said. “I haven't put four rounds together, so that's been frustrating. When you win early on you want to, you want that feeling.”
He appeared to want it too badly at times.
“I put myself in a lot of positions to win I have a lot of second place finishes the last four or five years I just haven't done it and that adds up. That adds a lot of pressure.”
Woodland has been a tireless worker throughout his career and nothing makes it all seem worthwhile quite like standing atop a loaded field. Former Oklahoma State golfer Rickie Fowler finished the third round in first place Saturday, hours after his alma mater upset Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse. Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson also were in the field. Jordan Spieth and Retief Goosen each missed the cut by a stroke.
“I have a lot of people around me, which is a good thing, but everybody expects you to play well and when you don't have the results, that's tough,” Woodland said. “So this validates that we're doing the right things and I believe I have a long way to go, but I believe I have a lot of time to do that and I'm excited about what the future holds.”