Gary Woodland made nine birdies in a glorious final round 64 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. But that wasn’t enough. It earned him a berth in the one-hole playoff with hometown hero, Chez Reavie, which he won.
Woodland was a natural athlete (basketball) out of the University of Kansas who got by on his athleticism. It’s a great story of belief, commitment and determination. He had grown increasingly impatient of being an “under performer.”
Q. I think this is victory number three for you right now and you’re 33, I think. In the bigger picture, how would you assess your career? You sound like you think you’ve maybe under performed.
Gary Woodland: 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. 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, 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 [Transitions Championship in Tampa], so expectations got high. And didn’t play great, got hurt again in 2012 and battled injuries for awhile.
So last three years I’ve been healthy, I haven’t put four rounds together so that’s been frustrating. When you win early on you want to, you want that feeling. You want, I mean I want this week-in, week-out. 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.
A lot of people, 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. 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.
I found Gary’s answer to this next question fascinating because he allows us to see behind the curtain into how a Tour player finds and works with elite coaches and their colleagues on Tour.
Q. Matt Kuchar was just saying that you guys played together and played nine holes together early in the week and he said, man, I actually sort of saw this coming because of the way Gary was hitting it. Did you see this coming?
Gary Woodland: I [saw] it coming for awhile. I played really well this year and I spent some time, I went out and spent some time with Butch [Harmon] in Vegas, I spent some time with Pete Cowen [Premier European coach] at the Shark Shoot-out on short game.
I called Butch and said, we got to figure out what’s going on. Obviously I haven’t won in five years, but there’s a reason for that, because my game’s pretty good. I hit it pretty good.
So he set me up with Pete to work on short game just to get a second opinion. Pete really got me to where I have confidence in my short game and that allowed me to be more aggressive and let Butch and I do what we do. I went back to Butch after I worked with Pete and we made some adjustments to kind of make it my own.
I’ve been spending some time with [Brad Faxon], talked to Fax last night on putting. 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.
I spent some time with him in the off-season just trying to free me up, not really mechanically but more mentally and the putter has been coming, strokes gained [putting stat] 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.
I liked Gary’s answer to this next question because it illustrates the mindlessness of being in the zone. You see a putt go in and it inspires the possibility that the next one will too. You hit a good shot and you realize that it came out of a simple goal of just trying to get the ball on the green without any thought as to how.
Q. Was there a point today where the round switched in your mind from, I’m putting together a good number to I could win this event?
Gary Woodland: I think really it was the second hole. I made birdie, I had a putt go in and, like I said, I haven’t put four round together in a while, in a couple years, but I hadn’t got off to good starts on Sundays either and that’s been tough.
Last week I was in contention and was 4-over through five I think and I fought back to finish 12th or whatever. But I just got off to a lot of bad starts.
To see a putt go in on 2, and then I miss a drive on 3, but I was able to get it up-and-down and saw another putt go in on 3, I knew it could have been a special day. Fortunately — I didn’t even know I made nine birdies until I got done. My caddie asked me, how many birdies did you make and I was like I didn’t know.
So obviously I was in the zone, I was kind of in the moment all day and just trying to give myself a chance, get it on the green, because when the putter’s rolling for me, good things happen.
Q. Your first win [since the 2013 Reno/Tahoe Open]. What can a win, especially one going to a playoff, do for your confidence going forward?
Gary Woodland: Really just verifies what we have been doing. Butch and I put a lot of work in. We have gotten some outside help with some other areas of our game, but Butch and I battled through this really for five years and just verifies that we’re doing the right things and we’re hoping to build something special.