PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Gary Woodland, who hadn’t finished in the top 10 of a major championship until last year, held off a charge from two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka to win the 119th U.S. Open at Pebble Beach for his first major victory on Sunday.
Woodland, who started the final round with a one-stroke lead, shot 2-under par and finished 13 under for 72 holes to win by three strokes over Koepka, who was trying to become the first man in 114 years to win three consecutive U.S. Open titles.
If you haven’t heard much about Woodland, here are five things you need to know:
1. He was a star in a viral video earlier this season
When Woodland arrived at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in late January, PGA Tour officials asked him if he would play the famed par-3 16th hole with Special Olympics golfer Amy Bockerstette, who has Down syndrome.
Woodland was happy to do it. He met Bockerstette and her father, Joe, when he reached the 16th tee box. Bockerstette, who accepted a scholarship to play golf at Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix in 2018, knocked her tee shot into a bunker, chipped out to 8 feet and then sank the par putt.
“That’s awesome!” Woodland said.
“Amy … you’re our hero.”
How a superstar named Amy teamed up with @GaryWoodland to win the hearts of the 16th hole crowd @WMPhoenixOpen.#LiveUnderPar pic.twitter.com/iRhZbvdjuP
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 30, 2019
It was the most viral video in PGA Tour history, with more than five million views.
“I’ve done a lot of stuff being the defending champ, but that was by far the coolest thing that I got asked to do and something I’ll never forget,” Woodland said the day he played with Bockerstette. “I told her she was an inspiration to all of us and we can all learn from her. … And I told her she was a hero and to keep doing what she’s doing because we’re all going to be following her.”
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
2. Father’s Day has special meaning for him
In March 2017, Woodland announced on Instagram that he and his wife, Gabby, were expecting twins. He posted an image from his wife’s sonogram and wrote, “First time I’ve been excited about a double #twins.”
Later that month, Woodland unexpectedly withdrew from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, for personal reasons. A week later, he announced that he and his wife had lost one of their twin babies.
“Gabby and I have since had to cope with the heartbreaking loss of one of the babies, and our doctors will be closely monitoring the health of my wife and other baby for the remainder of the pregnancy,” Woodland said in a statement. “We appreciate all of the love and support during this difficult time as we regroup as a family.”
Woodland’s son, Jaxson, was born 10 weeks premature in June 2017. He weighed 3 pounds and didn’t leave the hospital for 40 days. Jaxson is healthy and walked the Par 3 Contest with his dad at the Masters in April.
“It’s special,” Woodland said this weekend. “Obviously, my dad’s here, which is awesome. Unfortunately, my son’s at home. He turns 2 next week, which is amazing. But being a father is as good as it gets.”
Woodland announced this week that he and his wife are expecting identical twin girls in early August.
“I’ve got two more on the way, which will really make life really real,” he said. “But it’s exciting. [Jaxson] is a ball of fire, and I look forward to getting home with him next week.”
3. He wanted to play basketball at Kansas
play1:37Woodland remembers his college hoops days
Gary Woodland talks about his first love, playing basketball, and how he eventually transitioned to become a golfer.
Woodland grew up in Topeka, Kansas, and was a basketball and golf star at Shawnee Heights High School in nearby Tecumseh. He wasn’t recruited by Division I schools to play basketball, despite being named all-state and averaging 18 points as a senior. In March, ESPN.com ran a story chronicling how Woodland loved basketball, but instead ended up in golf.
Woodland was a shooter and a hard-nosed defender. He took a charge once that landed him in the hospital.
“Yeah, I remember that one,” he said. “Took a knee, collapsed my trachea, left on a stretcher. That was on a Tuesday, and scored 20-some points on Friday [and was] player of the week. That guy was trying to dunk on me.”
Woodland signed to play golf and basketball at Division II Washburn University in Topeka. After opening his freshman season against the Kansas Jayhawks in an exhibition hoops game, he realized golf was his future. He transferred to Kansas to play golf the next year.
Woodland said what he learned in basketball still helps him on the golf course.
“It taught me a lot,” he said. “Basketball, you’re not always going to have your best, but you find ways. If I’m not shooting well, I can pass, I can play defense. There’s other things I can do.
“I can take that to golf. If I’m not driving the golf ball, now I can rely on something else to really get me through. It took me a while to get my game to that position, but I feel like I’m comfortable doing that now.”
4. He struggled to close in the past — but no longer
Woodland, 35, has been a PGA Tour regular since 2009 and has earned more than $23 million. He’s currently ranked 25th in the world. He previously had won three events — only once since 2013 — and was runner-up 10 times. But until this week, he hadn’t played particularly well in the final round of majors — or when he had a 54-hole lead.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Woodland was 14-over par in the final rounds of major championships since 2017, which ranked 234th out of 236 players going into Sunday.
It also was the eighth time that he had at least a share of a 54-hole lead — and the first time he held onto it. In January, Woodland had a five-shot lead going into the final round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. He shot 68 — he was the only golfer to shoot in the 60s in all four rounds — but he finished second when Xander Schauffele fired an 11-under 62 to win by one.
Woodland finished tied for eighth at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in May (he shot 68 in the final round) and tied for sixth at the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive (69 in final round).
“It took me a lot to learn to control adrenaline; and other sports you use adrenaline to your advantage. Out here, when I get a little excited, I need to find a way to calm myself back down,” Woodland said.
“When I first got out here, if I got excited, I couldn’t control it. I didn’t know how far the ball was going, got ahead of myself. I’ve learned to take an extra deep breath and really start controlling everything, and not just the game — controlling the mental side too.”
5. Gary Woodland hits it far
Driving distance wasn’t a necessity at Pebble Beach this week, but Woodland is one of the biggest hitters on the PGA Tour. He ranked 11th in driving distance before this week, averaging 309 yards.
“I’ve always hit it far,” Woodland told Golf Channel in 2014. “When I first started playing golf as a kid, that’s what we did. My buddies and I would go to the range and see who could hit it the farthest. If anyone asked me advice for their kids, I’d tell them to do the same thing, because it’s hard to teach length. I tried to hit the golf ball as far as I could, then I learned to play golf later.”