Sept. 27, 2012
Upon graduating from the University of Kansas in 2007, Gary Woodland turned his complete focus and effort toward one monumental long-term goal—become the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world.
Just over three years later, the Topeka native utilized his raw athleticism and incredible distance to become a regular contender on the international golf stage, highlighted by his first PGA Tour victory in March 2011. A four-day total of 15-under at the Transitions Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla., was enough to edge 2012 U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson by one shot.
Woodland consistently posted low scores throughout 2011, making 21 cuts in his 25 professional starts, including six top-10 finishes and the fifth-best average driving distance on tour. His play also produced healthy paydays amounting to nearly $3.5 million by the end of 2011. A nagging wrist injury has limited Woodland’s number of tournament appearances in 2012, forcing him to spend less time on the road competing and more time at home in Orlando, Fla.
A multi-sport athlete in high school, Woodland originally attended Washburn University in 2003 on a basketball scholarship before retired golf coach Ross Randall invited him to play golf for KU. His four individual tournament titles and 15 top-10 performances for KU make him one of the school’s most decorated golfers of all time. Coaches admired his tireless work ethic in practice, which steadily gave way to improved results over the course of his college career. As a senior, Woodland carded half of his tournament rounds at even par or better.
We had an opportunity to catch up with him this week and hear a little bit about his progress on the golf course and also reflect on his years in Lawrence as a student-athlete.
How did you become interested in golf growing up?
“Really, from my dad. When I started walking, my dad and I liked to play golf after work. It was a way for me to hang out with my dad, so I’d just go to the golf course and walk around. That’s how I got involved in it, just hanging out with my dad when he got off work.”
What made you decide to transfer and play golf at KU after playing basketball as a freshman at Washburn?
“Our first game at Washburn, we played KU at Allen Fieldhouse, and I just realized quickly I wasn’t going to play basketball after school. If I wanted to play a professional sport, I needed to switch from basketball and golf was the only option I had to really get to the next level. KU gave me an opportunity—Coach (Ross) Randall, the golf coach at Kansas at the time, gave me the opportunity to come over and I was very fortunate to take that.”
Was the transition between basketball and Division I golf difficult for you?
“No, not really, because I was still competing. It was different going from a team sport to an individual sport and that was the hardest part. Fortunately, in college, you still have a little bit of a team aspect in golf, even though you’re playing an individual sport, so it was a pretty easy transition. Obviously, I was still close to home, being from Topeka, so I was still around a lot of friends and family, which made the transition a lot easier.”
Were any of your golf tournaments particularly memorable to you while at KU?
“Really, winning the Kansas Invitational my senior year. That was a tournament that KU guys had won during my first two years. I had a chance to win my junior year. I was leading going into the last round, but ended up losing, so I was pretty upset about that. To come back and win my senior year in front of all my friends and family, that was a big goal of mine.”
Describe the process of your improvement over time, building upon your college success and eventually winning on the PGA Tour?
“It’s going. I started last year at 600th in the world and I got to 37th. I’ve dropped now and I’m right around 100 right now. I had a rough year being injured all year, but it’s going well. We feel like we’re on pace and we feel like we’re doing the right things. Obviously, having played basketball in college for a year, I’m still far behind all these guys that have been playing golf their whole lives. I feel like we’re learning every day. When we get healthy, which we feel like we’re about 100 percent now, we feel like we can get moving back up in the world rankings again.”
You’re known to be one of the world’s longest hitters after finishing 2011 ranked No. 5 on the PGA Tour in driving distance. Has length always been your biggest strength?
“Now, I’m kind of trying to dial it back. When I was in college, I could hit it miles and miles, but I didn’t know where it was going. I got out on tour and I could hit it a long way, but it was tough when you wouldn’t be able to find it. We’re trying to dial it back and trying to hit it a little bit straighter right now and get the ball in play a lot more, which is starting to work. Last year, I drove it pretty well and I had a really good year. Driving the ball straight for me is a key, because I have the distance.”
To what extent has the extreme Kansas weather impacted your overall playing style?
“I think it, one, makes you mentally tougher, especially days I remember back in high school and at KU qualifying with winds blowing 30 miles per hour and it’s 45 degrees outside. It’s just tough, and I think that’s why I played pretty solid in the last two British Opens and made both cuts in both of those. I just think it’s prepared me. Growing up in Kansas and growing up in the wind and playing in nasty conditions has prepared me for all kinds of conditions that you see out on tour.”
How often do you return to Lawrence?
“I came to the football game (vs. Rice) two weeks ago, but I try to get to three or four basketball game a year. My family still lives in Topeka, so I come home for the holidays, but outside of that I try to get to at least three or four basketball games a year.”
What was your favorite part about going to school at the University of Kansas?
“Just Lawrence itself. I mean, it’s the best university in the world and obviously has a beautiful campus. I have so many friends and family and memories of growing up back there. I love Lawrence and it wouldn’t surprise me if I end up living in Lawrence someday. I just think it’s one of the best cities in the world, and obviously being close to home for me was a nice experience because I had friends and family right down the road, as well.”
Do you continue to keep in contact with the current KU golf team?
“I do. Obviously, we have a new golf coach this year and I came back and I’ve talked to the guys three or four times since they’ve been out of school. I follow them and being a former player, I like to keep up with the Jayhawks.”