PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – As Gary Woodland stood over what proved to be one of the defining shots of the 119th U.S. Open, many fans wondered how he would choose to navigate a difficult shot across the narrow and undulating 17th green.
As it turned out, Woodland had a little prior experience when it came to stepping onto the putting surface with wedge in hand.
Woodland’s pitch shot from the edge of the green with his 64-degree lob wedge nearly went in for a miraculous birdie, and the subsequent par helped him to a three-shot win at Pebble Beach in the biggest triumph of his career.
Addressing reporters with the trophy sitting next to him, Woodland shared that he had honed those skills in part by practicing the same shot when he first gave up basketball to focus on golf full-time.
“I started working with Randy Smith in 2005 I believe, and the short game was what was really bad, to be honest with you,” Woodland said. “And so my whole deal was, I had to hit chips off putting greens all the time, and there were some times where superintendents weren’t a huge fan of me. But I’ve hit a lot of chip shots off putting greens.”
Woodland also shared that he had encountered a similar shot earlier in the week at Pebble, opting to pitch the ball from the front right portion of the 17th green over a large spine to a pin in the back left. He estimated that a putt over the hill through the fringe might have left him with more than 20 feet for par, a far cry from the tap-in that essentially sealed his win.
“I was just trying to get it down there, trying to get it past the hole so I could be putting back uphill,” Woodland said. “Pete Cowen and I were working on trying to hit spinners off that early this week. That’s what I was thinking about when I was standing over it, and it came out perfectly.”