Woodland putting in work to reach new heights
Returns this week to Waste Management Phoenix Open, site of his impressive win in 2018
January 29, 2020
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Gary Woodland surprises Amy from Special Olympics Arizona
The practice green at Kapalua during the Sentry Tournament of Champions was pretty bare after competition rounds in early January. The PGA TOUR winners who had earned their way to Maui were generally easing their way back into things after the holiday period and grinding out more practice after a tough 18 holes with significant elevation changes in high winds.
The majority of players arrived with their extended families and/or friends and were making the most of island living by hanging out at the beaches or hotel pools or participating in activities like ziplining and whale watching. So you can understand the post-round exit times were usually pretty rapid. Quality time with loved ones beckoned.
Gary Woodland had as much reason to rush out to his family – if not more – than anyone. The four-time PGA TOUR winner’s wife Gabby recently gave birth to twin girls and the pair also have 2-year-old Jaxson to entertain. Jaxson was also set to be a twin but the Woodlands tragically lost his sister when Gabby’s water broke at just 16 weeks. It took ferocious work by doctors to ensure Jaxson didn’t suffer the same fate, and when he was born 10 weeks premature, the battle continued. But now he’s a healthy toddler and was bouncing around the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua hallways desperate for some Dad time.
Woodland loves nothing more than time with his son and daughters, and of course Gabby. Jaxson would get plenty of quality time but not before Woodland hit the practice putting green to do some work. It wasn’t extensive - perhaps 10 to 15 minutes - but it was every day. You see, Woodland is determined to strengthen his short game, as he knows it is the last piece of the puzzle to take his game to even greater heights.
The 35-year-old’s win at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach last year was part of his most successful season on TOUR, when he finished 15th in the FedExCup. The win, and two runners-up, formed part of eight top-10s for the season. He has continued the impressive run by notching three top-10s this season in just five starts while also being part of his first U.S. Team at the Presidents Cup.
Now Woodland returns to the Waste Management Phoenix Open – where he was the champion in 2018 – and a year removed from his famous encounter with Amy Bockerstette. Seeing the special Olympian’s tenacity and strength and just overall positive attitude as she made par at the famous 16th sent Woodland to a new maturity mentally. Her mantra – “I got this” – has now become his also.
It is why he did the extra work post round in Maui when he did. Woodland wants to make the most out of every second he has. He could have been content to win his major championship and just left it at that. He could allow his standards to slip and just live off the notoriety of a great week on an iconic course. But that’s not the competitor's spirit. And this guy is a true competitor. The former college basketballer has desire running through his veins.
Gary Woodland interview after winning Waste Management
“Aspirations are a lot bigger than last year … everybody asks about setting goals … my goal is to get better every day and if I continue to get better every day the sky's the limit,” Woodland says.
“I want to be the best player in the world. I want to stay there. I don't want to just get there. If I get better every day, the short-term goals that I do set, I will accomplish.”
Those short-term goals are focused on his short game. Woodland has spent the last few years improving under swing coach Pete Cowen, and then adding putting guru Phil Kenyon is taking him to new heights. But more improvement remains on the agenda.
Over the previous four seasons, Woodland has an average ranking of 14th in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee; 19th in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green and 16th in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. Last season alone he ranked first on TOUR with approaches greater than 200 yards, 10th from greater than 275 yards, 18th from 175-200 yards and 31st from 150-175 yards. Clearly he has been hitting it pretty well from distance.
On the other hand, he had an average ranking of 111th in Strokes Gained: Around the Green and 136th in Strokes Gained: Putting during the previous four seasons. Last season, among his success, there were some other numbers that did not make for fun reading.
The 35-year-old was 181st on TOUR on putts inside 10 feet. He was 148th in scrambling; 129th from outside 30 yards, 156th from 20-30 yards and 144th from 10-20 yards. In approaches from 50-75 yards he was 167th, and 74th from 125-150 yards.
“The short game, I have got to improve. I consider myself one of the best drivers in the world and the ball-striking is continuing to get better, but I need to improve the short game inside of 100 yards especially.” Woodland admits. “And the putting, which I'm working on, is getting better but I still have a long way to go.”
Woodland admits making the move to go to Kenyon was tough to swallow at first. It was thrust upon him by his inner circle after one too many ball-striking clinics that was soured by average putting. For Woodland this meant swallowing a little pride.
“A lot of us out here, we are where we are because we're so confident in what we do,” Woodland said. “But it got to a point where for three or four years I was right around 40th to 50th in the world and I just wasn't getting any better.
“Luckily I'm surrounded by great people who told me I need to go find some more help because I was frustrated where I was. They were frustrated dealing with me on a daily basis. But to get better, sometimes you've got to take a step back. It was hard to do initially but it's definitely got me where I am today.”
Woodland hasn’t just set on-course goals. He has included personal off-course goals as well. And the melding of the two ensures his focus is heightened.
“I have to appreciate the great times and the year that I had was amazing obviously on and off the golf course, but I need to continue to be a not just a better golfer but a better father and better husband,” Woodland continues.
“Becoming a father, it’s been way better. I am now leaving the golf course at the golf course and that's something I wasn't able to do before. If I played bad, I'd take it home. I'd dwell on it. Now my kids don't give me time to dwell on it. They want to have fun; they want to play. And that relaxes me. And it puts life in perspective really quick.”
This is also why he hits the putting green post round. It is part of the process of getting better at golf and fatherhood at the same time. Whether he had 20 putts in a round or 35, he’s putting in some work.
“It's the stuff I know I have to do. That's all routine based,” he adds. “That's a mental thing for me. I feel comfortable when I go home knowing I did that. That helps me on the golf course also because it keeps me in the moment. I know when I'm at the golf course, I need to be focused there because when I get off the golf course, I don't have that time that I used to have.”
While the personal motivation is enough to keep him on track, the fact Woodland has now finally tasted team golf at the professional level is another huge inspiration. As a Presidents Cup rookie, Woodland went 1-2-1 at Royal Melbourne and now wants to add many more to his resume.
As a rookie, Woodland had to deal with a little friendly hazing. He carried some bags, cleaned some shoes, took care of unpacking some clothes for his teammates … and he loved every minute of it. Next up is this year’s Ryder Cup, where Woodland is looking good sitting third on the U.S. Team points list.
“I've always wanted to be on a U.S. team and when you miss it, you know it's just another year you miss. But now being on the team and experiencing all that … I don't want to miss another one ever again so I'm going to continue to work hard and hopefully lock that up myself,” Woodland said.
“The Presidents Cup was as good and better than I expected. The bus rides, the team room … and to be honest with the golf itself I was a little more nervous than I thought I'd be. It's a little different when you're playing for somebody else and your country.
“Off the golf course it was the best week I've had on TOUR. The hazing, it was fun stuff, but I look forward to getting to not be in a rookie at the Ryder Cup.”
The work will continue for Woodland in the coming weeks to ensure he meets the new lofty standards. So if you’re looking for the Kansas native after a round at TPC Scottsdale this week, make sure to check the practice green first. Chances are he’s there.