Woodland was most proud of the mental strength he showed to become a major champion. Time and time again in the final round, Woodland was under pressure and every time he responded. On the par four 11th, his drive found the second cut of rough and he used all of his power to muscle his approach onto the green and save par. On the par 5, 14th, with Koepka hot in pursuit, Woodland made the decision to continue to be brave and courageous. He took on the par 5 that is fraught with danger to try and pull off a perfect shot to the 260 yard carry. His shot landed on the edge of the green and set up a three-foot putt for birdie. On the front edge of the par 3, 17th, Woodland elected to chip and produced an incredible shot in the circumstances. It stopped dead for a tap-in par to maintain a two shot lead over Koepka. In the end he put the icing on the cake with a grandstand finish at the 18th. Woodland made a 30 foot birdie putt across the green that always seemed destined for the bottom of the cup. He won by three strokes. Woodland, like Koepka who grew up wanting to play professional baseball, is an unlikely major champion. Basketball was his first sport of choice and “golf got forced on him”. He went to school, to Washburn, to play basketball and he always believed if basketball didn't work out he could fall back on golf. In the team’s first game they played Kansas at the University of Kansas. They were ranked No. 1 in Division I, and Washburn were ranked No. 2 in Division II. Woodland was guarding Kirk Hinrich, who went on to play for the Chicago Bulls, and quickly realised that he was not up to a high enough standard. “I was like, okay, I need to find something else, because this ain’t gonna work. And that was my first game in college. I was a two-time State champion, All-State, blah, blah, blah, but that was a different level.” Woodland transitioned to golf the next year – it was the first time in his life he had ever focused solely on golf. “It took me a little bit, but I got out here a year after school on the PGA TOUR in 2009. It’s 11 years later now being out here. I don’t think my game is where it needs to be, but it’s getting there. I'm becoming a more complete player, I have more shots. I can rely more on my putting, rely on my short game. Things I couldn’t do even last year.” Because of his late start to his golf career, Woodland said he has had to be patient as he hasn’t had the same golf background that many of his rivals have had. “I think from a golf standpoint I’ve always been a little behind, guys that have grown up doing this their whole life. But from a competitive standpoint, I don’t think I was behind at all. I competed all my life at every sport and every level. It was just learning how to play golf. It was learning to complete my game, to get that short game, to get that putting, to drive the golf ball straighter. And that was the big deal.” Woodland said it was nice to prove some of his critics wrong. His team, led by highly-regarded swing coach Pete Cowan, have put a lot of work in this year in helping Woodland become a more complete player. “I can play different golf courses. People probably growing up said U.S. Open wouldn’t suit me, because I’m a long hitter, I’m a bomber. Coming to Pebble Beach, on top of that, it’s a shorter golf course. And I went out and proved, I think to everybody else, what I always believed, that I’m pretty good.” No one can argue with that. KIWIS STRUGGLE New Zealand No 1 Ryan Fox and New Zealand’s leading amateur Daniel Hillier did not make the cut at the U.S. Open. Fox, who won on the European Tour earlier this year, shot rounds of 74 and 73 for a five-over par total. Hillier, who was a member of the NZ team who finished fourth at the Eisenhower Trophy last year, carded 76 and 73 for a seven-over par total in his major championship debut. The cut was two-over par. ↑ Gary Woodland celebrates holing a long birdie putt on the 18th green to secure his three shot victory. Ryan Fox chips to the green on the 12th hole during the first round ↖ 12 | NZ Golf Magazine | July 2019 FEATURE