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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Keegan

Column: Despite odds, Open in reach for Gary Woodland

Gary Woodland hits from the natural area on the seventh hole during the second round of the U.S. Open golf tournament in Pinehurst, N.C., Friday, June 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Gary Woodland hits from the natural area on the seventh hole during the second round of the U.S. Open golf tournament in Pinehurst, N.C., Friday, June 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt York)

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The official address informs that Dismal River red course, designed by Tom Doak, is in the town of Mullen, Nebraska, but Mullen is nowhere in sight.

Those who have played the course and other links-style gems nearby, including famous Sand Hills, will tell you it is not correct to say that the courses are in the middle of nowhere. In the middle of paradise, yes, but not the middle of nowhere.

Until Gary Woodland blew into town last week, clubs blazing, the record-low round at the red course, built in 2013, was 66.

That number was not the goal when Woodland sized up a 25-foot putt on the 18th green last week, studying it from every angle. He was playing with his buddies from Topeka, not against Rory McIlroy as he did in the final of the World Golf Match Play championship last month, so the competition wasn’t the source of pressure.

Woodland needed to make the putt to break 60 for the first time. When the number is 59, there is always the possibility, no matter how gifted the golfer, that the opportunity won’t present itself again. That’s very real pressure.

Woodland made the putt, shattering the course record by seven strokes and joining the 59 Club, rarefied air.

Making that pressure putt is among the many reasons I think Woodland is the best bet on the board at 100/1 odds to win the U.S. Open, which begins Thursday at Chambers Bay in Seattle.

“The guys playing with him were his Washburn buddies from old, and they said it was the most excited they had ever seen him,” said Joe Madsen, director of golf at Dismal River. “Gary said he was more excited for shooting a 59 than winning his two tournaments on tour. Those are hard greens to read. Not everything goes in the direction you think it should. He obviously did a phenomenal job of reading them.”

Madsen said Woodland became the man he’ll root for in the U.S. Open even before he teed off.

“Normally, I go out and meet every group that comes in, just to explain what we do and show them where to go,” Madsen said. “As soon as I walked out the door, he took two steps toward me and stuck out his hand. I’m an instant fan. What a nice young man.”

Woodland blew up with a 76 in the first round of the Memorial Tournament, and even a second-round 69 wasn’t enough to make the cut. So he returned to his summer home in Lawrence and played at Lawrence Country Club with his friends and tied Chris Thompson’s course record with a 61. Next stop: The Sandhills of Nebraska. Woodland played the Dismal River red course and Sand Hills to get some work in at links-style courses similar to Chambers Bay.

Madsen said he only knows Chambers Bay from magazines and TV. As he explained the type of course Dismal River is, it sounded in many ways like listening to touring pros discussing Chambers Bay.

“The Doak design is very similar because it has rolling hills and a lot of prairie-grass-type situations,” Madsen said. “I’m not that familiar with Chambers Bay, so I’m not exactly sure, but we have a lot of rolling terrain, lots of humps and bumps where you have to get it in areas to score well. Gary obviously did that.”

Madsen was impressed enough with Woodland’s score at Dismal River that he did a little politicking for his course.

“I told him, ‘When, not if, when you win the U.S. Open, can you put a little blurb about it being nice to play Dismal River?’ It was great to have him here,” Madsen said.

The back tees at the red course measure 6,994 yards, and Madsen said Woodland played from behind the tips on some holes, meaning he played a course longer than 7,000 yards and shot 59.

Woodland enters the U.S. Open played at a British Open-type course ranked 29th in the world and is 20th on the PGA Tour money list. Those numbers and his recent off-tour numbers give him better than a one-in-a-hundred chance of winning his first major championship this weekend.

Comments

Suzi Marshall 6 years, 11 months ago

I hope Woodland does well since $100 of mine went to Ladbrokes for that 100/1 shot! However, this is the US Open at the 7,600 yard monster called Chambers Bay. My daughter lives in Seattle so I've made it a point to play the course a couple of times. Normally par 5s are birdie opportunities but holes 1 and 9 are both insane 560 yard par 5s.

Woodland goes off at 10:33, Pacific, on number 10. The back 9, IMO, is much easier than the front, with realitively easy birdie attempt coming on 12 (sub 300 yd par 4), 15 (139 yd par 3) and 18 (761 par 5). If Woodland can open with 3 under for the first 9 to get a head of steam going onto number 1 and then birdies....it's game on. If Woodland is on the weekend leaderbord I bet the LCC pub will be packed.

Nevertheless, I think the course, which will have numerous pins that require placing and stoping the ball within 20 feet of the pin for a decent birdie attempt, sets up very well for Mickelson because the widely sloping greens will require precise and accurate ball placements.

Harlan Hobbs 6 years, 11 months ago

Suzi, thanks for the preview of the tournament. Will be watching with a little more interest now and will certainly be rooting for Gary to have a great tournament. We were driving through San Francisco the day that he was playing Rory for the match play championship. Wish we would have had time to stop.

Have only gotten to see Gary play in person once, when the Accenture Match Play was in Tucson. Unless you include Tom Watson in the mix, Gary is clearly the best golfer Kansas has ever produced. Tom grew up on the Missouri side, although he has some ties to, and has lived on, the Kansas side of the line. I think that he now considers the Greenbriar in West Virginia as his home. At least that was what they announced when he teed off at the PGA Senior event here in Tucson a few months ago.

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