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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Keegan

Golfer Gary Woodland a confident, grounded athlete

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— Now that there isn’t a hotter golfer on the planet, the demands on Gary Woodland’s time have increased exponentially.

Certainly, I wouldn’t have been offended had he not found the time to call me back Wednesday. After all, he has a tee time with Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson today in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, Fla., Woodland’s adopted hometown.

Woodland found the time, and a story he told me on the phone about his restaurant choice for a celebration dinner after his first tour victory, last Sunday in the Transitions Championship in Orlando, showed you can take the boy out of Kansas, but you can’t take the Kansas out of this Topeka boy.

After the victory, Woodland had just fulfilled his multiple obligations when agent Blake Smith asked him where he wanted to feast, not expecting the answer he received.

“Man, I want to go to McDonald’s,” Woodland told Smith. “I just want to get home and watch the KU game.”

And that’s what he did, catching the second half of the victory against Illinois. The dinner plans he made with stunning girlfriend Gabby Granado — they ordered a pizza and ate it in front of the TV — enabled them to watch Friday’s entire telecast of the Boston University game.

Woodland always has mastered that rare juggling act of abundant self-confidence that helps him aim to become the best in his field with a grounded personality, much like his favorite basketball coach, Bill Self.

Woodland’s opinion on Self’s team carries more weight than most. Out of high school, he turned down a golf scholarship from then-Kansas coach Ross Randall to play basketball at Div. II Washburn University. After a year, he transferred to KU to pursue golf. He still loves talking hoops, specifically KU hoops.

“I think Brady Morningstar is almost the MVP of this team,” Woodland said. “Tyrel Reed has shown great leadership. The twins are two of the best players in the country. Tyshawn (Taylor) has been playing great of late, and coach Self is always the X factor.”

Woodland ranks third on the PGA Tour money list with more than $1.8 million in earnings this season and looks forward to being part of this weekend’s featured pairing.

“Dustin Johnson’s one of my best friends out here,” Woodland said. “We’ve traveled together and played practice rounds, and I’ve always been a fan of Tiger, so that’s going to be exciting.”

Woodland’s victory qualified him for the Masters. He makes his first trip to Augusta, Ga., where he said he will play practice rounds this coming Monday and Tuesday to formulate a game plan with his caddy, Jon Yarbrough. Many tour veterans will skip next week’s Houston Open. Not Woodland. The Final Four is in Houston that weekend.

“I’d love to see them play for a national championship,” Woodland said of the Jayhawks. “Everyone is saying they have an easy road. I don’t know about that. I don’t think there’s any such thing as an easy road.”

He ought to know. He twice in three years made it through grueling Q school and through serious shoulder surgery to land the shot he’s now using to set himself up for a great life.

Comments

kcglowboy 8 years, 6 months ago

That's funny, KSA. (Not really, but I wanted a transition.) Thanks, JW, for two articles that give us a short respite from the madness. We have Matt Tait's creative "Signs" article, giving us all a little laugh today. And thanks, Keegan, for reminding us that there are great success stories from the Sunflower state and KU that don't involve basketball and for giving deserved props to a great ambassador.

100 8 years, 6 months ago

Gary Woodland lived the basketball dream, if only for a game, of every kid who grows up shooting a basketball in the backyard in Kansas....

He got to play basketball in a real game in Allen Fieldhouse. He even scored 3 points.

After that year he hung up his high tops & transferred to KU on a golf scholarship.

The great part of this story is, even playing golf with Tiger Woods.... Do you know what his mind is on as soon as he finishes his holes for the day?

Like us, his mind is on the bigger hole, the peachbasket. His mind is on Naismith's game. His mind is on Naismith's star recruit's Fieldhouse, who Woodland himself scored in.

His mind is on the sweet 16. His mind is on Kansas kids. And Philadelphia kids like Wilt Chamberlain.... Or Markief Morris... Or Marcus Morris.

His mind is on a coach's leadership.... A coach who was asked to have his first basketball job here in the fall of 1985, Bill Self. Asked by the only man to ever win an NBA championship and an NCAA championship, Larry Brown....

His mind is on Larry Brown's legacy, a man who himself said there was no better place to play, to coach, or to be than Kansas. This is the same man who has lived, played & coached all over the US, including Chapel Hill & Westwood.

His mind is on the awe of the legacy, how Larry came here because of Dean Smith.... Who was only here & a national champion here because of the greatest recruting landing in the history of college basketball, the winning of Phog Allen to Kansas... By a man named Dr. James Naismith...

Oh yes this story is about basketball.

Gary Woodland is a prolific golfer. But he will be the first to tell you, without James Naismith making Lawrence his home 113 years ago... Coach Bill Self wouldn't be here with this attacking, swirling, talking, walking, pick hedging, lane clearing group of Jayhawks we see before us.

Oh yes this article is indeed about basketball.

Because Gary Woodland himself will tell you someday, I promise...

"Winning the Masters has nothing on playing in Allen Fieldhouse, the home of the Jayhawks, the home of my favorite 6 Sports banners in the history of sports...."

Chicago_JHawk 8 years, 6 months ago

Actually, a good portion of it is about basketball.

Let's summarize:

It's about a basketball player who permanently switched his focus to golf in college. He also happens to be a big supporter of the current basketball team, so much so that he found time to watch both tournament games while competing in a golf tournament that he won. He also plans to play in a tournament in Houston while the Final Four is going on, and discusses briefly his opinion of their potential road to the Final Four.

KU79 8 years, 6 months ago

Great story about a great kid, Tom. Thanks. It's been fun watching Gary's phenomenal season, and I hope he keeps it going.

Steve Gantz 8 years, 6 months ago

Fun to see Gary win Sunday, however that doesn't make him the hottest golfer on the planet. The fact you mentioned he's 3rd on money list strongly implies that. Hope he wins again this week and maybe we can call him the hottest on the planet.

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