Change in mindset led to Woodland's turnaround

By Rex HoggardOctober 30, 2013, 3:54 pm

Amid the morning mist on Monday in Malaysia, Gary Woodland stepped to the 18th tee at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club and gave the golf world the ultimate head fake, smoothing an iron into play on the massive 634-yard, par-5 closing hole.

He broke the code, right? The former college point guard knows the rules, coaches coach, shooters shoot and bombers bomb. In this moment, a sudden-death playoff against Ryan Moore that spilled over into Monday at the CIMB Classic by mounting weather delays, one of the game’s most athletic players had a chance to overpower the sprawling final hole and claim his third PGA Tour title.

Instead, he went with an iron off the tee, hit a less-than-stellar layup into the rough and watched as Moore birdied the hole to claim the crown. In the loss, however, we saw a glimpse of Gary Woodland 2.0, a retooled player whose health and head have finally caught up with all that athleticism.

“I didn't think I could cover the bunkers this morning, especially where that pin was,” Woodland reasoned on Monday. “If the pin was up front, we probably would have been a little more aggressive, but with the pin in the back I didn't want to leave it short of the bunker and have a tough third shot. We decided to lay up and tried to hit a good wedge in there.”

In short, the mighty has become mindful. And in the case of Woodland he’s come by it honestly.

For all of the Monday morning quarterbacks – or maybe it was Sunday night couch potatoes considering the CIMB’s playoff was aired in primetime on the East Coast from Malaysia – who took to second guessing Woodland’s choice of clubs in extra frames know only that the decision is a sign of progress.

Consider that less than six months ago, Woodland had drifted to 259th in the World Golf Ranking and was mired in an ultimate makeover that others would likely consider a career-ending abyss.

In order, Woodland changed management firms, swing coaches (twice), equipment and eventually caddies (Tony Navarro). If not for the omnipresent Kansas Jayhawk on his bag, casual fans may have been challenged to pick Woodland out of a crowded tee sheet.

“Gary changed 14 clubs and the golf ball this year,” said Claude Harmon III, who took over for his famous father, Butch, as Woodland’s swing coach after this year’s Masters. “That’s tough, look at the guys who have changed like that. Look at Rory (McIlroy), it’s not easy to do. There was a lot of change.”

But the biggest change this year may have been Woodland’s health. Dogged by ailments large and small since joining the Tour in 2009, Woodland was nearly sidelined this spring with a left-wrist injury.

The result was a dramatic grip change to help alleviate some of the pressure on his ailing wrist and a return to a more familiar left-to-right shot shape. Or, as Harmon figures, “almost a pull fade.”

“Gary loves to fade the golf ball and my dad wanted him to get to where he can draw and I think Gary is such a hard worker he wanted to get to where he could draw it under pressure,” Harmon said. “When you are playing under pressure you have to have something you can play aggressive with.”

Results came slowly at first and in August he needed to talk himself into playing the Reno-Tahoe Open while the world’s top players plied their trade at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

The combined inspiration of playing an opposite-field event and Reno’s modified Stableford scoring format proved to be the perfect tonic to wrest Woodland out of his slump. He won the event by nine points.

Two weeks later Woodland solidified his second trip to the Tour Championship with his runner-up finish at The Barclays.

“I'm healthy. That's a big key,” Woodland said. “I put a lot of hard work in. It's been a process with the changes I've made, switching to Butch and his son, and it's finally starting to come together, which is nice. I put a lot of work in on the short game, a lot of work on the middle game, and we're starting to put it together now.”

The CIMB was Woodland’s last official start of 2013 and there is a measure of maturity in how the 29-year-old plans to spend his offseason. In addition to his normal gym/practice tee regimens, Woodland has started working with Pat Goss on his short game and sports psychologist Julie Elion. One of the game’s most powerful has turned to precision and the power of the mind in his quest to regain his world-beater status.

During a recent team meeting with Woodland, Harmon said his goals for 2014 were telling – improving his wedge game and earning a spot on next year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team.

“This is the player you are hopefully going to see for the next three, five, seven years,” Harmon said.

Not many players have successfully reinvented themselves, but in Woodland’s case he’s done so from the wrist up.

Getty Images

Kang on cheating allegation: 'I did the right thing'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 1:26 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Three weeks after his playing partner claimed that he “cheated,” taking an improper drop at the Quicken Loans National, Sung Kang insisted Thursday that he did nothing wrong.

Joel Dahmen tweeted that Kang cheated after a lengthy dispute about where his ball had last crossed the line of a hazard. A PGA Tour official ruled in Kang’s favor. Kang made par on the hole, shot 64 and earned one of the available spots in the Open Championship.

Kang didn’t learn of the controversy until the next day, when he received an email from a PGA Tour communications official seeking comment. He researched online what the furor was about, then issued a brief statement through the Tour (which added its own statement, saying that there was “no clear evidence” to suggest that Kang dropped incorrectly).


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Kang said he tried to clear the air with Dahmen before the first round of last week’s John Deere Classic, but they never had the opportunity to discuss their differences.

“I followed the rules official and I think I did the right thing,” Kang told a handful of reporters Thursday following his opening round at Carnoustie, where he shot a 2-under 69 to sit three shots off the early lead.

Kang said he was hesitant to discuss the incident with reporters, because he said there clearly was a difference in opinions. He said he’d already told his side to South Korean news outlets but that “whatever I say, some people are going to trust it and some people are not going to trust it. Then I’ve got to think about it more and more when it’s not going to help my golf game.”

“I really want to say a lot of things about it, the truth about what happened,” he added, “but I’m not going to say anything.”

Kang said that he wouldn’t alter his approach when dealing with rulings in the future.

“No. Why?” he said. “I did the right thing. There’s no point in changing.”

Getty Images

Kisner (67) enjoying 'frat' life, soccer matches with Jordan and Co.

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 12:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The frat house tradition continued this year at The Open, with a group of seven high-profile Americans rooming together for the week, including early first-round leader Kevin Kisner.

Kisner explained after his opening 5-under 66 that the group – which includes Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler – has spent the week talking about how demanding Carnoustie is playing and enjoying the summer weather.

“We're out there playing soccer at night and hanging out,” he said.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


To be clear, this isn’t a proper soccer match, but instead a penalty-kick situation with all but one player taking turns trying to score.

“I just try to smash [Dufner] in the face,” Kisner laughed. “He's the all-time goalie.”

Although Kisner said he’s always impressed with the athletic prowess of other players, Spieth has proven himself particularly adept on the impromptu pitch.

“Jordan scored when Duf tripped, it was hilarious,” Kisner smiled. “[Spieth] is good until he sends it over the goal four houses over, and we've got to go knock on a neighbor’s door for the soccer ball.”

The group is actually staying in two local houses that are next to each other, one with a large enough back yard and a soccer net, but perhaps not enough soccer balls.

“We’re going to have to Amazon Prime a couple new balls to replace the ones we lost,” Kisner said.

Getty Images

Van Rooyen continues links run with impressive 67

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 12:27 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For Erik van Rooyen familiarity has not bred contempt.

The South African, like many European Tour players, has been on a links golf odyssey the last three weeks, playing the Irish Open, Scottish Open and this week’s Open Championship in consecutive weeks, and the crash course paid off on Day 1 at Carnoustie when he opened with a 4-under 67 to assure himself a spot among the early leaders.

Although van Rooyen missed the cut last week just down the coast at Gullane Golf Club, he entered the final round in Ireland with a four-stroke lead.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I didn't pull it off the final day,” said van Rooyen, who closed with a 74 to tie for fourth place. “I still think I played pretty well. I was nervous. That's completely normal, and I'll learn how to deal with that. I'll take that experience into tournaments like this.”

Van Rooyen, who was alone in second place when he completed his round, began his round with back-to-back birdies and was bogey-free until the last hole. It was just what one would expect from a player who has immersed himself in links golf for the better part of a month.

“We've been playing nice golf now the last three weeks, so definitely used to the way this course is playing, definitely used to handling the wind,” he said. “So I'll be ready.”