Woodland changes agent, loses coach, seeks control

By Doug FergusonJanuary 5, 2012, 2:41 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Gary Woodland is unlike most players at Kapalua. He is one of the most athletic figures in golf, certainly among the most powerful. And considering that he didn’t start playing serious golf until college, he’s not even close to reaching his potential.

But for someone looking for a little more consistency, his 2012 season begins with significant change.

Woodland decided to hire a new agent, which in turn wound up costing him a coach.

He left Hambric Sports, where he was represented by Blake Smith, and signed a deal with Mark Steinberg at Excel Sports Management. And then longtime coach Randy Smith – the father of his old agent – decided to part ways with Woodland.

Woodland starts his new season Friday at the Tournament of Champions, one of 28 winners in the field, and then will have two weeks off to search for a new coach.

“I was lucky to work with Randy for six years. I wouldn’t be where I am without him,” said Woodland, who won his first PGA Tour title last year in the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook. “Things happen. He’s got to do what’s best for him and his family. I’ve got to do what’s best for me.”

And so Woodland moves on, hopeful of showing how good he can become, and that he’s more than just a Kansas kid who can mash it.

His rookie season in 2010 was cut short by a torn labrum in his right shoulder that required surgery. In his first full season, he won his first PGA Tour event, made the cut in every major, and built up even more confidence late in the year when he teamed with Matt Kuchar in the World Cup for the first American victory in a decade.

“I am so far ahead of where I was last year,” Woodland said.

In some respects, he has some catching up to do. Unlike most players who gravitated to golf early in life, Woodland spent his summers in Kansas playing a little golf, a little basketball and a lot of baseball. His father suggested he not spread himself so thin, and coming off a long summer of playing shortstop, Woodland settled on basketball and golf.

And then there was one.

He realized his dream of playing basketball might be a stretch after one season at Division II Washburn, and he returned to a standing offer from the Kansas golf coach to play for the Jayhawks.

Smith recalls the first time he saw Woodland at Kansas.

“Muscle beach,” he said. “Strong kid.”

For Woodland, golf was always about power.

“I tried to hit it as far as I could. That was fun,” Woodland said. “I played other sports, so when I played golf, I wanted to have fun. And hitting it far is fun.”

His strength comes from his lower body, powerful calves and thighs that allow him to keep his balance no matter how hard he swings. Woodland figures baseball helped, too, teaching him to transfer weight in his attempt to hit home runs.

He was fifth on the PGA Tour in driving distance last year at 310.5 yards, and that was without hitting driver as much as he would like. That’s one thing he wants to change this year.

When he spent time with Smith at Royal Oaks in Dallas during the offseason, Woodland said the emphasis was on two clubs – the driver and the wedge. Much like Dustin Johnson, he needs to improve his distance control with a wedge to take advantage of his sheer power.

What makes Woodland excited is a trip to the Titleist test facility in California in the fall, where he was able to find the right shaft that helped him pick up an extra 15 yards off the tee.

“This driver is straighter and longer. It’s huge,” Woodland said, and “huge” is not a word he uses lightly. “That (fairway) bunker on No. 8 at Augusta won’t be in play.”

He decided not to use it at the World Cup, though he was plenty long. Woodland still talks about the final hole at Mission Hills in China, when 3-wood was the smart play off the tee because of a bunker that was 300 yards away, with lava and water down the right side. They were two shots ahead in alternate shot, and the Germans had a birdie putt on the 17th hole.

Kuchar told him to hit driver on No. 18 if the Germans made birdie, and if not, Woodland could hit whatever he wanted. The Germans missed, Woodland reached for the 3-wood and Kuchar told him, “You’re hitting driver.”

“I had to hit the perfect shot,” Woodland said. “It was the best swing I made.”

Kuchar still laughs at about that moment, but there was a reason he wanted Woodland to hit driver. “I said to him, ‘Let me hit a 6-iron instead of a 4-iron, please,’” Kuchar recalled.

As for his pick as a partner?

“Pretty darned good pick, wasn’t it?” Kuchar said. “He’s a fantastic talent. You’re going to see a lot of Gary in years to come.”

Woodland’s plan is interesting.

It sounds like he is cut out of the bomb-and-gouge mold, though Woodland is hesitant to hit driver if he’s not hitting it where he’s aiming. If he can get that sorted out, and dial in his wedge game, he figures he will have a big advantage. That would leave him a lot of shots from the 100- to 120-yard range.

“We have that shot more than anybody else,” Woodland said. “If we can drive it in play and hit good wedges, we’re going to be pretty good. Guys get up-and-down from there 70 percent of the time. If we get up-and-down 50 percent of the time, but we’re hitting twice as many wedges, we’re still going to be ahead.”

That could be the perfect recipe for Kapalua, with massive fairways on a Plantation course cut out of the side of a mountain. This course was built for power, though other big hitters who showed up for the Tournament of Champions the first time haven’t always succeeded. It still requires knowing the slopes and the grain on the firm greens.

Besides, Woodland knows he has work to do. Asked for the deficiency in his game, he said, “Everything.” He also said his par-5 scoring was well below what it needs to be, and he needs to drive and putt more consistently.

He wants to be known for more than power, though Woodland knows that makes him different.

“If I’m hitting 3-wood and everyone else is hitting driver, it’s a level playing field,” he said. “If I’m hitting driver straight, then I think I’m playing at a different level than everybody else.”

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''