As the reigning U.S. Open champion, he knows what it takes to win a major championship, and with so many up for grabs in the coming months, he likes his chances to bag another one
Winning a major championship can be overwhelming.
The adrenaline rush tends to stay with a player long after the crowds are done cheering his name. In the case of Gary Woodland, the emotion endured after the medal was draped around his neck.
After Woodland captured the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach last year for his fourth PGA Tour victory, he has had only one chance to add a second major championship. That resulted in a missed cut last summer in the British Open at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland.
But with seven chances at majors in the next 12 months, beginning this week in the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco (tee times), Woodland and many of the top players in the world are eager to parlay a hot streak into golf immortality.
Consider the route that Italy’s Francesco Molinari took in 2018.
Starting in late May at the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship, Molinari played in six events, including the U.S. Open and British Open, and won three times: the BMW, the PGA Tour’s Quicken Loans National and the 147th British Open. He also was runner-up at the Italian Open and the John Deere Classic and he tied for 25th at the U.S. Open.
Woodland has found that the three-month break because of the global coronavirus pandemic proved to be positive for his game.
Since his victory at Pebble Beach, when he rose to a career-high 12th in the Official World Golf Ranking, Woodland made 20 PGA Tour starts without winning. Included in that stretch were two top-five results on the fall Asia Swing, a T-3 at the CJ Cup and a fifth at the Zozo Championship.
After a solid 3-under 67 in the final round of the Honda Classic and a T-8 finish March 1 in his last result before the break, he decided to make some dramatic changes. Woodland, 36, dropped some 20 pounds from his 6-foot-1-inch frame, to 195 pounds, to improve his health and boost his chances for longevity in professional golf.
When Woodland returned to competition in early June at the Charles Schwab Challenge, the PGA Tour’s first post-pandemic event, he felt a new level of readiness.
“It was kind of like I would say the Olympic athletes that were getting ready for the Olympics,” said Woodland, paralleling the world’s biggest sporting event with golf's upcoming stretch of major championships. “You have to refocus. Knowing that we're going to have seven [in 12 months], which we've never had and will probably never have again, hopefully, is a big deal, especially mentally and physically, getting my body in the right mind frame preparing for that.”
One victory in a major championship gives Woodland the hunger for more.
Beginning this week, the condensed stretch of major championships presents Woodland with the perfect opportunity to make a career statement.
“I think the big deal with that is more of the mental hurdles of winning one and not trying to change what you've done,” he said.
As with many players, Woodland dissected his Open victory and tried to re-create what got him there. His Open title resulted from an outstanding short game and solid putting. Thus, he focused on those two areas but neglected the part of his game that brought him to golf’s summit: ball-striking.
“I know when I putt well, I'm going to contend, but I need to have that ball-striking,” said Woodland, who ranks 51st on the PGA Tour in strokes gained tee to green. “That was where I kind of lost myself at the end of the year last year. I was focusing, Oh, I won a major with putting and short game; that's all I need to do.”
Woodland recently has addressed the need to focus on ball-striking, working with swing coach Justin Parsons.
Now, Woodland arrives at TPC Harding Park, where he finished runner-up to Rory McIlroy in the 2015 WGC Cadillac Match Play, with renewed confidence in his swing and the vision of what it takes to win a major title.
“My ball-striking is getting back to where it was, because that's what's going to continue to drive me,” Woodland said. “And then when I putt well like I did at the U.S. Open, I'm going to have some great weeks.”
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