October 15, 2019

How Basketball and Baseball Helped Gary Woodland Master Golf

How Basketball and Baseball Helped Gary Woodland Master Golf

“I came back, scored 20,” Woodland said proudly.

On Sunday, Woodland held off a charging Brooks Koepka, who closed with a three-under 68. Koepka, the world’s top player, could not intimidate Woodland, who posted a 69 to beat Koepka, the world No. 1, by three strokes.

Woodland also learned breathing techniques in basketball that he has transferred to the golf course. Before shooting free throws, he took several deep, calming breaths and counted to three in his head to help block out the crowd noise. Between golf shots, he does the same thing. He takes deep breaths and, particularly on putts, he counts to three in his head before starting his stroke.

On Sunday, Woodland said, those techniques kept him “in the moment.”

He added, “I think from a mental standpoint I was as good as I’ve ever been. I never let myself get ahead of myself, I never thought about what would happen if I won.”

Being at the plate or on the free-throw line with the game on the line taught Woodland how to embrace the pressure and discomfort instead of succumbing to it. So when Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen and Koepka, who have a combined seven major titles, took turns making runs at him on Sunday, Woodland didn’t panic. He told himself, “Enjoy the stress. Enjoy being uncomfortable.”

Team sports also made Woodland coachable. When his instructor, Pete Cowen, suggested a few tweaks to his chipping stroke at the start of the week, Woodland didn’t question it. He did as he was told, and his execution around the greens during the week was nearly perfect.

“He sent me an unbelievable text this morning that had nothing to do with my golf swing or technique,” Woodland said, referring to Cowen. “He said, ‘Every man dies, but not every man lives, and you live for this moment.’ I thought about that a lot today.”

And in the end, he got his first major victory in 30 attempts. Woodland doesn’t anticipate as long a wait before the next one. Employing the third-person plural to reflect the team effort that is any sport, Woodland said, “I think we’re trending in the right direction.”

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