Jayhawk Insider: Gary Woodland honored in his hometown
TOPEKA – It was all eyes on former Kansas men’s golfer Gary Woodland on Tuesday night as his hometown city celebrated him capturing his first ever major championship, the 2019 U.S. Open. It was a no-brainer for the KU alum to come back and relish in the victory which occurred just shortly over two weeks ago on June 19th. With some of his closest family and friends by his side in the downtown block of Topeka, the “Gary Woodland Block Party” featured short speeches by Kansas head men’s golf coach Jamie Bermel as well as his high school coaches who spoke on the composure and tenacity Woodland has displayed throughout his life and developing career.
The 35-year old first started his college career as a basketball player for Washburn University in Topeka before transferring after his first year to play golf at KU where he played for four years (2003-07) and was coached by Ross Randall, a prominent figure in Woodland’s life and a pillar of KU golf.
Woodland previously spoke on his relationship with Randall when the coach was inducted into the Kansas Golf Hall of Fame in 2014 after coaching for 28 years including three decades at Kansas. As a mentor to Woodland, Randall had a great relationship with him and treated him as one of his own sons during his time in Lawrence.
“Ross has been everything to me,” Woodland said “He gave me the opportunity to follow my dream. He has done unlimited amount of things for KU and the state of Kansas. There’s not a place I go, anywhere, in a tournament, that somebody doesn’t bring up Ross Randall. His impact on golf, as a whole, is untouchable.”
As a Jayhawk, Woodland won four events and received 14 top-ten finishes before turning pro in 2007. Woodland had been moving up the ranks in recent years after winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open in August of 2018.
He captured his first major title in memorable fashion by besting two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka and winning by three strokes with a 13-under at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, California. Fresh off of his first first major victory, the success still hasn’t fully sunk in for the Topeka native but he’s trying to embrace the moment one day at a time despite his lack of sleep. Hearing from famous athletes like Chris Paul or Charles Barkeley as well as golf legends like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods showed Woodland that this win is no fluke and that he will have to only keep getting better.
“This has been a little bit overwhelming,” Woodland said. “I’ve worked hard and dreamed big but you don’t plan for this. This came together so quickly and life’s been hectic, but it’s been good. I’ve just been balancing my time management more but this is what it’s all about. You work hard and want to recognized but first to do that, you have to put in the results. It’s very humbling to me.”
During the three days of Woodland’s play during the U.S. Open, seemingly the entire city of Topeka as well as the state of Kansas started to rally around him as he made his push up the leaderboard. The Jayhawk community was noticeably visible to Woodland as he mentioned receiving love and support from former basketball players and athletes. He also mentioned visiting a basketball practice the morning of the parade which shows where his roots are.
“I love Kansas and I bleed red and blue,” Woodland said. “It’s been a huge part of my life and I’m friends with a lot of good people over there. It’s really special and I love coming back to athletic events and seeing those people.”
Current KU head coach Jamie Bermel wasn’t Woodland’s coach during his time at KU but his big impact on the Jayhawk golf program and the state of Kansas is apparent.
“From the athletic department to the University to all of the junior golfers in the state, what an exciting time to have a U.S. Open champion,” Bermel said. “He not only won the tournament but it was how he represented the University and this great state is what impressed me.”
Bermel added that he’s been around former players on the PGA tour like former KU golfer Matt Gogel as well as 2007 Masters Champion and Iowa native Zach Johnson who have both shared similar traits that he sees in Woodland.
“Those guys have a different tick to their heart,” Bermel said. “It’s different watching them practice and grind. Our golfers can see it when he stands on the range for three hours and he sends our team his practice plan. He’s that kind of guy.”
As Woodland spoke to the large crowd spanning over a block in Topeka’s downtown, he became emotional when talking about how much his home means to him and how his attention has skyrocketed since his breakthrough on a national stage. June 19th was officially declared Gary Woodland Day and he was given the key to the city, and only a short 30 minute drive away is where Woodland learned perfected his game and learned life lessons at KU. It’s moving fast for the born-and-bred Jayhawk but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“You can get caught up with everything that comes with it and not really enjoy it and embrace it,” Woodland said. “So I’m really tying to manage my time and enjoy the journey. I’ll never forget where I came from and I’ll never forget who I am.”