PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Gary Woodland, a college basketball player turned professional golfer, won the 119th United States Open at Pebble Beach on Sunday. Woodland, who came into the tournament 0 for 30 in golf’s four biggest events, held off three major winners — Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose and Adam Scott — who have spent a combined 37 weeks at the top of the men’s world rankings.
Woodland finished 13 under par, beating Koepka by three strokes.
Koepka, the two-time defending champion and world No. 1, was trying to become the first since William Anderson in 1905 to win three consecutive U.S. Opens. The 29-year-old Koepka had won four of his previous eight majors, including the P.G.A. Championship last month. He began the day four strokes behind Woodland, the 54-hole pacesetter, and played the first 11 holes in four under par — aided by eight one-putt greens, to pull to a single stroke off the lead.
But Woodland, who played basketball at Division II Washburn before transferring to Kansas for golf, never flinched. He said he learned how to control his adrenaline, contain his emotions and play within himself while paired with Tiger Woods in the final round of last year’s P.G.A. Championship. Woods ended up finishing second to Koepka that day, four strokes ahead of Woodland, whose tie for sixth was his best showing in a major until Sunday.
Woodland, a native Kansan, confessed Saturday that he never stood over the ball on practice greens as a youngster pretending he was putting to win his national championship.
“I don’t know if I spent any time on a putting green when I was a kid,” he said with a laugh. “I was too busy hitting driver.”
Woodland, who had three PGA Tour victories in his first 10 years as a pro, was known as one of the game’s longest hitters. Over the past five seasons, he has ranked seventh to 13th on the tour in driving distance. But the key to his success this week was his play on the greens, where he ranked among the leaders in fewest putts per hole.
“I have a short game now I can rely on,” Woodland said. “I don’t have to focus on ball striking.”
Woodland watched golf instructional videos as a toddler and started hitting balls on the range beside his father, Dan, who had also been a multisport high school star. In those days, Gary Woodland was not much older than his own son, Jaxson, who will turn 2 this week. Woodland’s wife, Gabby, is expecting twin daughters in August, so Father’s Day took on a whole new meaning for the family even before Woodland secured the biggest win of his career. “It’s special,” he said.