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On Father’s Day after celebrating his first major championship, Gary Woodland shared some of the perspective he has gained while dealing with tragedy.
After living through the darkest moments when his wife suffered two miscarriages, Woodland said his priorities have changed. The 35-year-old, meat-and-potatoes strongman from Topeka, Kansas, held off major champion extraordinaire Brooks Koepka on Sunday to win the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links, finishing in style with a 30-foot birdie on the 72nd hole.
Next week the Woodlands will celebrate the second birthday of their son Jaxson. And come the first week of August, Gary’s wife, Gabby, is due to give birth to identical twin girls. While Gabby was home in Florida, Woodland’s parents were on hand for their son’s first major title.
“We’ve had our struggles, and it’s been documented, the losses that we’ve suffered,” Woodland said. “And it was tough. We thought we were done, and the identical twin girls were a surprise. But being a father now puts life in perspective. My whole life it’s all been about trying to win. And now I’m trying to make a better life for my son than I’ve had.
“It’s been a process. But today is so special from that standpoint that being a father and hopefully some day he can even see this and realize that anything is possible.”
Woodland hoisted the giant silver trophy after signing for a 2-under-par 69 on a cool, overcast day to finish at 13 under and three shots clear of Koepka, the world No. 1 who was trying to join Willie Anderson as the only players to win the national championship in three consecutive years.
Woodland, with rounds of 68-65-69-69, and Koepka, with rounds of 69-69-68-68, became the fourth and fifth players to shoot four rounds in the 60s in a U.S. Open.
Woodland, who previously was 0-for-7 when holding a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour, led by one with 18 holes to play and never buckled under the weight of the U.S. Open and the chasing pack that also featured 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose.
“From a mental standpoint I was as good as I’ve ever been,” said Woodland, who has four PGA Tour titles. “I never let myself get ahead of myself. I never thought about what would happen if I won, what comes with it. I wanted to execute every shot. I wanted to stay in the moment. I wanted to stay within myself.”
After he Facetimed with his son and wife in the morning, Woodland, who didn’t have a three-putt all week and made just four bogeys, took a 1-shot lead to the first tee in the afternoon. After Rose caught him with a birdie on the first, Woodland regained the outright lead with birdies on the second and third. From there, he never relinquished his advantage and held off the intimidating presence of Koepka.
“I think the big deal is to enjoy the pressure,” Woodland said. “Obviously it’s an uncomfortable situation leading in a major championship after 36 holes, after 54 holes. But I kept telling myself, even this morning, to enjoy this moment. Enjoy the pressure. Enjoy the stress. Enjoy being uncomfortable.
“And don’t shy away from it, embrace it.”
Woodland’s signature shot came on the uphill par-5 14th when he reached the green in two with his second shot from 249 yards, the ball hit with his 3-wood clearing by a cavernous bunker protecting the front of the green by just one yard. The shot led to a birdie and upped his lead to two shots.
“It was one of the better swings I made all week,” Woodland said.
There was another highlight that stood out, too. On the par-3 17th, Woodland’s tee shot wound up 90 feet from the hole on the hourglass green. Using a 64-degree wedge, he chipped off the fringe to a foot to save par and maintain his two-shot lead. Then he canned the 30-footer on the last.
“If I putted it, I don’t think I could have got within 20 feet,” he said. “Fortunately, I did have that shot earlier in the week. And I was just trying to get it down there, trying to get it past the hole so I could be putting back uphill, and it came off perfectly.”
Koepka, the world No. 1 who’s won four of the last nine majors he’s played, got within one shot on multiple occasions but couldn’t catch Woodland.
With a final-round 68, Koepka became the first player in U.S. Open history with five consecutive rounds in the 60s – he also shot 68 in last year’s final round at Shinnecock Hills. Koepka also became the first player to shoot four rounds in the 60s and not win the U.S. Open.
In his last four majors, Koepka won the PGA Championship twice and finished second in the Masters and U.S. Open.
“I played great. Nothing I could do. Gary played a great four days,” Koepka said. “That’s what you’ve got to do if you want to win a U.S. Open. Hats off to him. He deserves it, he’s worked hard and I’m happy for him.
“It was awesome to come this close to going three in a row. It’s incredible. Anytime you can compete in a major is special and to have a chance to go back-to-back-to-back, that was pretty cool. I didn’t really think about it until I was done on 18 and realized how close I actually was.
“Just wasn’t meant to be this week.”
Rose, who rode short-game magic to come within one shot of the lead through 54 holes, couldn’t overcome his erratic iron play and slipped into a tie for third with a 74. Joining him at six shots back were Xander Schauffele (67), Jon Rahm (68), Chez Reavie (71).
“The putter wasn’t quite as warm today as it was yesterday. Took a bit of a day off,” Rose said. “But I felt like I had to have a day where I pieced everything together to win. It was close. But coming in, once momentum leaves you a little bit, it just becomes hard to grind it out.”
Tiger Woods birdied six of his last 12 holes, but for the most part was not sharp all week and turned in a dull effort to finish in a tie for 21st.