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.”

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Lyle going through 'scary' period in cancer recovery

By Associated PressJune 21, 2018, 12:58 pm

MELBOURNE, Australia – Jarrod Lyle's wife says the Australian golfer is struggling through a ''really scary'' period in his third battle with cancer.

Lyle, 36, underwent a bone marrow transplant last December following a recurrence of acute myeloid leukemia.

''It's been 190 days since Jarrod's stem-cell transplant and we are going through a really rough patch at the moment,'' Briony Lyle wrote on jarrodlylegolf.com. ''I'm typing this blog on his behalf because he's not able to do it. Jarrod's not able to drive, struggles to prepare any food for himself, can't read stories to the girls and is not able to offer much help at all around the house.

''He is also starting to look like a very frail, sick person.''

Briony Lyle added: ''We are both very aware of the amount of drugs and medication that has gone into Jarrod's body over the years but things are starting to get really scary at the moment. It looks as if this recovery is going to be the longest and hardest one so far.''

Lyle has twice beaten acute myeloid leukemia, in 1998 and 2012, and was able to return to play professional golf.

He made an emotional comeback to the golf course during the 2013 Australian Masters in Melbourne before using a medical exemption to play on the PGA Tour in 2015. He played four seasons on Tour, where he earned $1.875 million in 121 tournaments.

Lyle has since returned to Australia permanently to be with Briony and daughters Lusi and Jemma.

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Vermeer wins PGA Professional; 20 make PGA Championship

By Associated PressJune 21, 2018, 12:42 pm

SEASIDE, Calif. – Ryan Vermeer won the PGA Professional Championship on Wednesday, overcoming front-nine problems to top the 20 qualifiers for the PGA Championship.

The 40-year-old Vermeer, the director of instruction at Happy Hollow Club in Omaha, Nebraska, closed with a 1-over 73 on the Bayonet Course for a two-stroke victory over Sean McCarty and Bob Sowards.

The PGA Championship is in August at Bellerive in St. Louis.

Three strokes ahead entering the day, Vermeer played the front in 4 over with a double bogey on the par-4 second and bogeys on the par-4 seventh and par-4 eighth. He rebounded with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-4 11th and also birdied the par-5 18th.

Full-field scores from the PGA Professional Championship

Vermeer finished at 5-under 283. The former University of Kansas player earned $55,000. He won the 2017 Mizuno Pro/Assistant Championship and finished ninth last year in the PGA Professional to qualify for PGA at Quail Hollow.

McCarty had a 68, and Sowards shot 69. Sowards won the 2004 title.

David Muttitt and Jason Schmuhl tied for fourth at 1 under, and 2012 and 2015 champion Matt Dobyns, Jaysen Hansen, and Johan Kok followed at even par.

Marty Jertson, Brian Smock and Ben Kern were 1 over, and Zach Johnson, Craig Hocknull, Matt Borchert and 2016 winner Rich Berberian Jr. were 2 over. Nine players tied at 3 over, with Shawn Warren, 2017 champion Omar Uresti, 2014 winner Michael Block, Craig Bowden and Danny Balin getting the last five spots at Bellerive in a playoff. Balin got the final spot, beating Brian Norman with a par on the seventh extra hole after Norman lost a ball in a tree.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”