PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Kansas alumnus Gary Woodland sunk a 30-foot birdie putt on the 72nd-hole to put the final touches on a three-shot victory in the 119th U.S. Open Championship. Woodland became the first KU alumnus to claim a major golf championship, winning with a final score of 13-under, 271.
“I’ve worked hard my whole life, I’ve been surrounded by amazing people and always just wanted to be successful,” said Woodland after his final round. “I fell in love with golf and it has transcended into today and it all kind of came out in me (on the 18th hole). I never let myself get ahead all day today. I just kept telling myself, ‘It’s never over,’ and when that last put went in it all came out.”
Woodland, who played golf at KU from 2004-07, entered the final round holding a one-shot lead over Justin Rose at 11-under. The Topeka, Kansas product got his round off to a solid start going two under through the opening three holes via birdies on the second and third holes.
After bogies at holes nine and 12 to fall back to even-par on the day, the 35-year-old held steady over the final stretch of the championship, going bogey-free over the final six holes and tallying a pair of birdies to nail down the title.
On the par-5 14th hole, Woodland’s second shot rolled just over the back of the green before he chipped his third shot to within three feet for a tap-in birdie. The performance on that hole gave him a one-shot lead as he headed to the final three holes of the tournament.
“It would have been pretty easy to lay up there,” said Woodland of his play on the 14th hole Sunday. “(My caddie) is the one that told me to play aggressive. He told me ‘let’s go, let’s hit 3-wood’ and it was one of the better swings I made all week. Him telling me to do that gave me confidence and I executed it and it ended up in a perfect spot. That birdie kind of separated me a little bit from Brooks (Koepka) and gave me a little cushion.”
While the field could not make up the difference, Woodland continued his solid play. He posted a pair of pars on the 16th and 17th holes, which included an critical up-and-down for par on the par-3 17th to maintain his two-shot lead as he headed to the 72nd hole.
“I was just trying to get it down there, just trying to get it past the hole,” Woodland said of his second shot on the 17th. “It came off perfectly. I clipped it nicely. I’d been working on that shot early this week and it came out nicely.”
On the par-5 No. 18, Woodland ended his championship run in style by sinking a 30-foot putt for birdie and put the final touches on a three-shot victory to earn the victory. He closed out his four days at Pebble Beach with a total score of 271, 13-under, outlasting runner-up and two-time defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka by three shots to win his first-career major title.
“From a mental standpoint I was as good as I’ve ever been,” Woodland concluded. “I never let myself get ahead of myself. I never thought about what would happen if I won and what comes with it. I wanted to execute every shot. I wanted to stay in the moment. I wanted to stay within myself … I was proud of myself to stay in it, to slow down a little bit, to slow my thinking down and really focus in on what I was doing and not let my mind wander at all.”
Woodland’s play over the entire week was nothing short of spectacular, only suffering four bogeys over his 72 holes and hitting 15 greens-in-regulation during the final round Sunday. He becomes the first Jayhawk to win a U.S. Open and a major golf championship.
Woodland ended his evening at Pebble Beach with a post-tournament press conference, in which he mentioned his time playing basketball for Washburn, and the time he realized that basketball my not be the athletic route for him to take, after having to guard KU All-American Kirk Hinrich in his first collegiate outing.
“I went to Washburn to play basketball and I always believed if basketball didn’t work out then I had golf to fall back on. In our first game we played Kansas, they were ranked No. 1 in Division I. I was guarding Kirk Hinrich and I was like, ‘Okay I need to find something else because this isn’t going to work.’ And that was my first (basketball game) in college.”
Woodland went on to transfer to Kansas and play for three season on the Jayhawk men’s golf team. He won four individual tournament titles at KU and claimed All-Big 12 honors twice before turning professional in 2007.