Ahead by two strokes going into the 18th hole, Gary Woodland only needed to take six strokes to win the 119th U.S. Open. It took three shots, but Woodland finally found the green and could three-putt to win his first ever major.
Instead, the former Kansas Jayhawk did it in one shot, finishing off his run in fashion. Woodland birdied the final hole to capitalize his performance and completed the Pebble Beach tournament at 13-under.
"It took me a lot to learn to control adrenaline; and other sports you use adrenaline to your advantage," Woodland told ESPN. "Out here, when I get a little excited, I need to find a way to calm myself back down."
Woodland, hailing from Topeka, started his collegiate career at Washburn University playing basketball for the Ichabods. After one season however, he transferred to the University of Kansas on a golf scholarship.
Woodland had a successful collegiate career, winning four tournaments and eventually turning pro in 2007. From there, the journey began to become challenging for Woodland.
He struggled early in his career, making only nine of his 18 cuts during the PGA Tour in 2009 before he had to hold himself out of competition due to a shoulder injury.
Finally, in 2011, Woodland won his first PGA Tour event, the Transitions Championship, after Webb Simpson missed a putt on the final hole. Two years later, he won another event at the Reno-Tahoe Open.
It took five years before Woodland would claim victory again when on Feb. 4, 2018, he found himself at the top of the leaderboards at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. At the event, the name Gary Woodland started to become more well-known.
He went on and tied for sixth at the PGA Championship. Then, in 2019, Woodland flipped a switch.
At the first major, the Masters Tournament, Woodland was competing early, but then dropped down and tied for 32nd. The following month at the PGA Championship, Woodland started off slow but worked his way back up into the top 10, finishing in a tie for eighth of the final day.
A switch was flipped for Woodland at the U.S. Open. At the end of the first round, he shot three-under to put himself in a tie for eighth.
The second round, Woodland made his magic happen and shot six-under on the day to put himself in first place. From that point on, Woodland was fighting the likes of England’s Justin Rose, who seemed to be perfect on the back-nine.
On the final day, Woodland started at 11-under and birdied two of his first three holes. Justin Rose began to struggle and Woodland could have coasted, until the back-to-back champion Brooks Koepka showed up.
“The strategy stayed the same, I played exactly the same off the tee-boxes as I had all week,” Woodland said in an interview with the Golf Channel.
Koepka started the day off at eight-under and proceeded to birdie four of his first five holes, boosting his case for best golfer in the world. Rose dropped off in the back-nine, but Koepka continued to hit par on nearly every hole.
Woodland, though, made magic happen on hole 14. He hit a very poor shot, making it seem as though he would be forced to finish with a bogey at best.
Then, on his third shot, he put himself on the green and proceeded to tap the ball into the hole, finishing with a birdie on the hole. At that point, it felt as though Woodland was going to win his first major.
On hole 18, Koepka missed a putt to finish par, and the world knew the 35-year-old Woodland was almost certainly winning a major.
The unlikely became reality for Woodland when he birdied the final hole and to capitalize the victory, the signature fist pump was thrown. Woodland, for the first time in his career, won a major.
"Even walking up to the last before I hit the last putt, I kept telling myself 'it’s not over, you’ve got to finish,'" Woodland said to the Golf Channel. "I’m glad it’s over with."
The feat was even more special as it was Father’s Day while his own father and kids were watching.
"I wouldn't be where I am today without my dad, and the way he treated me, and the way he was hard on me," Gary told ESPN. "And that's something I look forward to doing with my son."
“I knew my record going in … I just kept telling myself, 'records are meant to be broken,'” Woodland told the Golf Channel.