Topeka native Gary Woodland has had some pretty momentous years throughout his athletic and personal life.
There was 2000, when as a sophomore he helped lead Shawnee Heights High School to its first state basketball championship since 1989. Then there was 2002, when the T-Birds did it again, with senior Woodland earning All-State Top 5 honors.
There was 2011, when he recorded his first PGA Tour victory and enjoyed a breakout season on the tour, playing in his first Masters and British Open along the way.
Or maybe 2016, when he married Gabby Granado. Or 2017, when his first child, Jaxson, was born.
Yet, as bountiful as all of those years were, Woodland is hard-pressed to imagine any being better than what has occurred in 2019.
Woodland captured his first major championship on the PGA Tour, winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Calif., in mid-June. Two months later, he and his wife welcomed twin girls, Maddox and Lennox, into their family.
And to top it off, he was selected to play for the United States in the Presidents Cup, where earlier this month he helped Tiger Woods' American squad rally for a 16-14 victory against the International team captained by Ernie Els.
Professionally and personally, it doesn’t get much better.
“Obviously, professionally it’s by far the biggest year of my life so far,” said Woodland, 35. “Winning a major is definitely life-changing. Bringing two girls into my life as well, that ranks right up there with having my son and getting married.
“To put the twins and the major in the same year, I think it was the biggest year of my life so far, definitely the most life-changing.”
The big win
The 2019 season started out like many have for Woodland since he turned pro after playing collegiately for the University of Kansas. He was a cut-making machine, contending in a handful of events that included a second straight top-10 finish at the PGA Championship, which was moved up in the major rotation for the first time this year.
But at Pebble Beach, it was a whole new Woodland on display. His short game was better than it had ever been and so was his putting. The pressure was immense with two-time reigning U.S. Open champion and world No. 1 Brooks Koepka breathing down his neck. Woodland handled it like a pro.
For the first time in his professional career, he turned a 54-hole tournament lead into a victory, punctuating a three-shot win with a 30-foot birdie putt that drew a fist pump in celebration.
Woodland soaked the moment in with his parents, Dan and Linda Woodland, but had to wait to celebrate with Gabby and Jaxson, who were home in Florida. Gabby was late in her pregnancy with the twin girls.
“It wasn’t until October that I really got to celebrate it with my family and getting to fully enjoy that moment,” Woodland said. “Even after I won, I was playing wondering if I was going to have to pull out, was I going to make it to the British Open.
“It was a long six weeks after I won until the girls came. We had the great celebration in Topeka (in July), but Gabby wasn’t there to be part of it, and I didn’t get to celebrate with her because she was touch-and-go there for a month and a half after I won. The last two months have been amazing for me just being able to spend time with my family.”
The whirlwind following his U.S. Open win wasn’t just the anticipation of the arrival of Maddox and Lennox. As a major champion, Woodland now had major obligations.
Following his U.S. Open win, Woodland immediately signed an endorsement deal with Titleist for using its golf ball. He also signed with Duff & Phelps, a financial consultancy firm.
Additional sponsors meant additional time away from family and practicing, something Woodland constantly does to keep improving his game. He admits that balancing it all was tough.
“The expectations that come with it, I just didn’t anticipate that,” he said. “You work to win, but you don’t realize all that comes with it. I’ve been with sponsors for years that don’t use all the days they’re allotted. Well, that’s not the case now. My time is definitely more valuable now, because I have to make sure I can practice and be at home while handling all the obligations.”
The rock behind making it all work has been Gabby.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without her, to be honest with you,” he said. “It really sucked that she couldn’t be at Pebble, because she wanted to and I wanted her there. But her allowing me to go practice every day, travel the world and play while she’s at home with the kids, that’s tough. It’s not just three kids, but three kids 2 and under in car seats, in diapers. There’s just a lot going on.
“It’s nice having family close, and my parents have been down there a lot, but it’s a lot. For her to support me and allow me to go out and do the things I do to be successful is everything. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without her support and the love she’s given me.”
The crowning jewel
Woodland’s game faltered a bit in the two months following the U.S. Open win and before the birth of the twins.
“I won Pebble Beach because my short game was amazing and I led the field in putting that week,” he said. “After that tournament, I focused so much on putting and short game, but I’ve gotten to where I am because my ball-striking has been so good. I lost some of that, and I have to live and die with my ball-striking. I’ve learned that, so I have to make sure I keep that where it’s been and keep improving the putting and short game but not at the expense of losing my ball-striking.”
Woodland regrouped at the end of the FedEx Cup Playoffs and began the 2019 portion of the 2019-20 season playing as well as ever. He spent time atop the leaderboard at both the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges and Zozo Championship, tying for third at the CJ and taking fifth at the Zozo.
The performances helped secure a captain’s pick from Woods for the Presidents Cup, which was contested earlier this month in Melbourne, Australia. Woodland has coveted a spot on the American team ever since turning pro, and this year's nod put a crowning jewel on a banner year.
“It’s been a goal of mine for a long time,” Woodland said. “I’ve been close, and to get that phone call was amazing.”
Woodland contributed 1½ points to the U.S. victory, teaming with Dustin Johnson for a victory in one foursomes match and partnering with Rickie Fowler to earn a tie in another foursomes competition.
Making the experience even more amazing was that Gabby was able to join him for the week Down Under.
The question is, can it get any better for Woodland? Or has he hit his peak, both professionally and personally, at 35?
“Well, we’re not having any more kids, that’s a definite,” Woodland joked. “But the family is unbelievable, and it’s so great watching these kids grow. From a professional standpoint, I just have to continue to get better. I’m 35, but I think I can still play this game for a long, long time. I just have to stay healthy and continue to improve.”
With the year winding down, Woodland has had time to reflect on what took place in 2019, and he sums it up simply: “I don’t want it to end.”