Gary Woodland

USA Today

Gary Woodland Is An Absolute Champion

Dude fought off Pebble. And Brooks Koepka.

June 17, 2019 - 10:55 am

Gary Woodland is your 2019 US Open champion. And there might not be a better story around. Seriously. Forget everything you know about his backstory for a moment, I’ll get there in a second, and focus on this: Gary Woodland is the US Open champion.

And going into yesterday, everyone knew the stat: that Gary Woodland was 0 for 7 when holding the 54-hole lead. So naturally, the expectation was that with 2013 US Open champ Justin Rose as his playing partner and the major machine, Brooks Koepka, just ahead of them, that someone was going to run down Woodland.

No way that Woodland could maintain his one-shot lead going into the day. Cool story to lead after Saturday, but Sunday is a different matter. Sunday at the US Open is where good stories get crushed.

And Koepka looked like the guy who was going to crush it.

Birdie on one, three, four, and five. That’s how you start a Sunday at the US Open. That’s how a two-time defending champ piles pressure on a guy who’s never won one.

Justin Rose also opened with a birdie on one to tie Woodland, but then Gary responded. Birdie on two, birdie on three. Nerves?  Yeah…I’ve got your nerves right here.

Then came the bogey on 9 and then on 12. And then came the moment of the tournament for him on 14.

263 yards to the hole. 250 yard carry in cold conditions. With a one shot lead. On the back nine of the US Open. At Pebble Beach. On Sunday. Absolute stones... There’s brass and then there’s that shot.

"The idea was to play for the win. I could have laid up. That 3-wood separated me a little bit."

Damn straight it did. 

You think he can’t hang with the big dawgs? Wrong. He can. And he can beat them. That approach on 14 was iconic. Seriously. That’s not hyperbole, that’s the kind of shot that goes down in US Open lore and Pebble Beach lore. And incredibly… he still had another one in him.

Because he left himself in a bad spot on 17. And was somehow able to bail him self out. First the three-wood on 14, then chipping on the green on 17. That’s where he won the US Open. Koepka missed a birdie putt on 18, but that didn’t really matter.

Koepka didn’t choke that away, Woodland had a hold of it and wouldn’t let go. And if you needed any more proof of that, how about the putt on 18.

That birdie took him to 13-under, one better than Tiger’s 12-under back in 2000. That’s how incredible Woodland was over those four days.

If you couldn’t tell it from watching him all four days, and I’m not sure how you could’ve watched him and not realized this, but Gary Woodland is tough as hell. Legend has it that back when he was playing basketball in high school, he tried to draw a charge. He took a knee to the chest that resulted in a collapsed trachea. Doctors told him he was done playing for a few weeks, he played three days later. 

Collapsed trachea on a Tuesday and he’s dropping “20-some points” on a Friday. My guy is tough.

But even Gary Woodland, basketball player, was no match for Kirk Hinrich. Because Woodland went to Washburn University on a basketball scholarship and was matched up with Captain Kirk in a game against Kansas, and that’s when he knew his basketball career was over.

"The moment really got forced on me. I went to school, to Washburn to play basketball, and I always believed if basketball didn't work out I could fall back on golf. And our first game we played Kansas at the University of Kansas. They were ranked No. 1 in Division I, and we were ranked No. 2 in Division II. And that decision got forced on me really quickly. I was guarding Kirk Hinrich, and, like, okay, I need to find something else, because this ain't gonna work. And that was my first game in college. I was a two-time State champion, All-State, blah, blah, blah, but that was a different level."

He probably saw Hinrich’s haircut and was like, I’m outta here. Did that guy just cut his hair with a 4-iron? I should hit a driving range.

There are so many other incredible Gary Woodland stories. Like the tragedy and joy that his family has been through. Like the viral video from the Waste Management Open earlier this year with Amy Bockerstette. And the fact that he was face-timing Amy with the trophy last night.

I don’t have time to play the whole video with Amy from the Waste Management Open, but if you haven’t seen it, you should. And if you have, you should watch it again.

Gary Woodland is an absolute champion. He had Brooks Koepka, the two-time defending champ, the most dominant force in golf right now, bearing down on him and he never blinked. Not only did he not blink, he rose above it. Dude fought off Pebble. And Brooks Koepka. And he’s your 2019 US Open champ. Nothing but respect. Dude earned every damn last bit of it.