Gary Woodland put on a putting clinic at the Transitions.
Here’s your amazing stat of the day: Transitions Championship winner Gary Woodland did not miss a putt inside 20 feet on Sunday. He struck 17 such putts, and all 17 found the bottom of the cup. That will win you some golf tournaments. And if that sort of moss mastery continues, consider Woodland a rising star.
“You know, we’ve worked hard on it,” Woodland said of his putting. “I think that’s the one thing that’s really held me back over the years, and through working a little bit with Brad Faxon and Randy Smith together, us three, we’ve really attacked it this year. It’s been coming along.”
Faxon is known as a flatstick virtuoso, so it’s not surprising that he’s becoming a go-to consultant for struggling greensmen. “The more I got out of Brad was mental stuff, preparation,” Woodland said. “You know, he was talking about my stroke was a little slow, and maybe that’s why I was coming up at the Bob Hope (where he lost in a playoff). I kept coming up short right. He gave me a drill. … The last couple weeks we’ve really focused on the speed of the putter, and it’s really taken off.”
As has his career. Woodland, a former multisport athlete, started focusing solely on golf only eight years ago, but he’s obviously a quick study.”I was athletic, but I didn’t know what I was doing out here,” he said. “I got hurt, and I had to step back and really figure out how to play this game. And I'm starting to figure that out right now.”
Obviously. The 27-year-old now has four top-six finishes in his six appearances so far in 2011. But the final round at Innisbrook wasn’t a leisurely Sunday stroll. Woodland’s back nine was a wild ride that featured five birdies, three bogeys and a 10-foot par putt at 18 that clinched a one-shot win over Webb Simpson.
It’s appropriate that, during the heart of the NCAA Tournament, the PGA Tour showcased a former college basketball player. Woodland played hoops at Washburn before transferring to Kansas to play golf.
“My first (basketball) game was in Allen Fieldhouse, we got smoked by Kansas, and I realized maybe I need to do something different; this isn't going to work,” Woodland said. “The coach at Kansas told me when I decided I was going to play basketball, he said, you’re going to change your mind, you have a future in this game. I called him a year later, and here we stand.”
So how did Woodland fare against the Jayhawks? “Three points. I was 1-for-7.”
Content at this point to follow Kansas hoops from afar, Woodland has more urgent concerns, like a trip to Augusta, although that wasn’t at the forefront of his mind as his roller-coaster round wound down. “I was struggling all day hitting the golf ball, so that’s all fine and dandy. I’m so excited playing the Masters, excited for the FedEx, I’m moving up in that, excited to go to Kapalua next year (For the Hyundai Tournament of Champions), but today I was just trying to get the golf ball on the green.” Where his putter took over.
Woodland heaped credit for his win on swing coach Rusty Smith, who also turned Justin Leonard into a world-class player. “Randy and I, we haven’t changed anything,” Woodland said. “I’m just better at what we've been working on. I’ve been with Randy for five or six years now. We put a golf swing together within the first year I’ve been with him and we haven’t changed anything since, we’re just trying to master it. You know, I attribute it all to that, just getting better at what I do.”
Woodland absorbs all he can from the players around him, including fellow Smith pupil Leonard. “Yeah, you know, I try to pick Justin’s brain as much as I can. I think he gets tired of me being around. You can learn so much from that guy, I played with Paul Casey this week. He looked like he struggled all day and he shoots even par. That’s something that I hadn’t had in the past.”
Along with Dustin Johnson, Woodland epitomizes the new generation of sleek, athletic players, belying the old stereotype of golfers as paunchy cigar-chompers. “I think if you’re athletic you can play this game,” Woodland said. “It’s a lot of hand-eye coordination. It’s one of those deals where athletes can come play golf, but golfers, it’s tough, we can’t go dunk a basketball. We can’t go hit a 100-mile-an-hour fastball, but they can come play our game, so I think golf attracts a lot of athletes.”