Gary Woodland felt the way anyone would on winning the U.S. Open — thrilled and excited and beyond words. But what filled his heart that Sunday — Father’s Day — was the video clip from his wife Gabby, back home, showing their little son Jaxson dragging all the pots and pans out of the cabinet.
Jaxson, almost two, born prematurely, was the twin who survived. His sister had not, to the grievous pain of her parents.
Life had been more than birdies and bogeys for Woodland. And with Gabby, expecting twins again, rooting back home in Delray Beach, Florida, and his mom and dad, Linda and Dan, with him at Pebble Beach, this U.S. Open became a classic family affair.
It was a miracle that his dad was even there. He remembered too well, 10 years earlier, when his dad had a heart attack and “coded,” he said — as in died — and was revived. Woodland hugged him. “Happy Father’s Day,” he said.
“I love you,” his dad said. “You earned it.”
Dad coached him in baseball and basketball, but not in golf. And dad was something of an advocate of tough love.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without my dad,” Woodland said. “My dad worked nights. Growing up, I had somebody to shoot baskets with. What ever we did, I had somebody to do that with. My dad never forced me to do anything. But if I did it, if I decided to go play catch or basketball, he was hard on me. You had to do it the right way if you were going to do it.
He was hard on me. He never let me win.”
Woodland was a star in Kansas high school basketball, and won all-state honors for two years and helped his team to two state championships, and startled the doctors the time he was hit by a knee in the throat and suffered a collapsed trachea. He wouldn’t be playing for several weeks, the medics said. He was playing three days later and scored 20 points. Woodland, a 6-foot-1 shooting guard, had hoped to play at the University of Kansas but ended up at Division II Washburn. His mom remembered the time Washburn had a game with Kansas, a national powerhouse, and he had broken a finger in practice. But he wasn’t about to miss this one. He played with two fingers taped together. “He’s played through every injury ever,” she said. “He never quits.”
His golf career effectively started when he transferred to Kansas on a golf scholarship and he was taking the game seriously, or perhaps even earlier, when he was a little kid and would swing clubs till his little hands bled. “They didn’t have gloves that small,” his mom said, “and he still wanted to keep hitting balls.”
Woodland’s latest reward for all that work was in his hands that Sunday evening at Pebble Beach — the big, softly gleaming U.S. Open trophy. He thought back to January, at the pro-am of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He’d invited Amy Bockerstette, a 20-year-old with Down Syndrome, to hit a shot at the famed par-three 16th. She was bunkered. He wanted to help her and hit it out. She waved him off with what became three of the most inspiring words in golf. “I’ve got this,” she said. And she splashed it out to about 10 feet, and then holed the putt.
Said Woodland, that Sunday at Pebble: “I told myself that a million times today — ‘I’ve got this.’”