Woodland is big hitter and shooting star

Third sport’s the charm after baseball, basketball

- By Steve DiMeglio USA TODAY

ORLANDO — Change has never thrown Gary Woodland.

After playing more than 100 baseball games as a shortstop and leadoff hitter for a top-flight traveling team during the summer of his 16th year, Woodland was told by his father he had to choose between baseball and golf. Away went the bats. But when no one recruited him to play college golf, Woodland decided to take his basketball skills — he was all-state for two years in high school — to Division II Washburn in his hometown of Topeka, where he averaged six points a game during the 2002-03 season as the team made it to the NCAA Division II regionals. Then, deciding golf could provide a career, away went the basketball, as Woodland transferre­d to Kansas to play golf, won four collegiate events and turned profession­al in 2007.

Nowhe’s the latest winner on the PGA Tour, gutting out his maiden Tour win in the Transition­s Championsh­ip on Sunday, where he made just one par on the final nine holes and won by a stroke. Of course, the victory changed everything for the 26year-old, 6-1, 210-pound rock who can hit the golf ball from here to Topeka.

His travel itinerary now includes a week at Augusta National for the Masters and a trip to Hawaii next year for the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

“It’s been a great 48 hours, and I’d like to keep it going,” Woodland said. “I still have a long way to go. I’m not in all of the majors yet.”

He’s headed in the right direction, however, and defending Arnold Palmer Invitation­al champion Ernie Els said Woodland is the future of golf.

“I think Gary Woodland is a product of what has been happening over the past 10 years or so,” Els said. “Now the guys are athletic, they look after themselves, they are hitting it over 300 yards and they can keep control of the golf ball. I think that’s the future.”

Woodland, for now, is concentrat­ing on the present. His late switch and concentrat­ion to golf put him a tad behind in the experience department, but the competitiv­e fire honed from years of playing team sports carries him.

“I’ve always played baseball and basketball, playing against older kids growing up. I love that. I’m here for the competitio­n.” Woodland said. “You find ways to win when you don’t play well. That’s what I did on Sunday. I found a way to win when I wasn’t playing my best. I attribute all of that to the sports I played growing up.”

Per his lack of experience, he relies on coach Randy Smith and caddie Jon Yarbrough, especially when it comes to dialing down his enormous power. The two emphasize that driver isn’t always the proper club of choice, especially when Woodland can hit a 3-wood north of 300 yards and a 2-iron Having a blast: Gary Woodland, 26, hitting from a 16th-hole bunker Sunday during the final round of his victory in the Transition­s Championsh­ip, has four top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this year. 285 yards. Now, Woodland is putting in as much work with his short game as he is with his long game. In his win last week — his fourth top-10 of the season — he had 10 putts on the back nine and 23 in the final round.

“My course management was horrendous in 2009,” Woodland said. “(Smith) told me last week I had to play conservati­ve. I didn’t want to do it but I did. It’s something I’m learning, and I’ve got to keep sticking to it.

“(Fans) love how far you can hit it and they want to see it, it’s exciting, and I don’t blame anybody for that. But I wanted to prove that I can do more than just hit a golf ball a long way.”

Woodland also has changed his ways off the golf course. He no longer plays basketball, baseball or any other sport.

“I would find some way to hurt myself, so I don’t play any other sports right now,” he said. “NowI relax. I work out a lot, but basically, I’m catching up on all the rest I didn’t get when I was younger.”

 ?? By Mike Carlson, AP ??
By Mike Carlson, AP

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