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LATE BLOOM

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GARY WOODLAND THE U.S. OPEN CHAMP ON HIS FIRST MAJOR, LEARNING TO FOCUS ... AND WHY GOLF WAS A BACKUP PLAN

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SI: You've long been considered one of the most naturally talented players on Tour, but coming into the U.S. Open you only had three wins in almost a decade. Did you ever feel like you were underachieving?

GW: Yeah. I got on Tour really quickly after being kind of a no-name in college [at Kansas], and then I won shortly after that, in Tampa in 2011. The expectation was to keep building on that. But I dealt with injuries and split with a swing coach. You could definitely say it took a lot longer than I would have liked.

SI: What changed from then to now?

GW: Butch [Harmon, my old swing coach] retired at the end of last year, and I made the switch to working with Pete Cowen full time. Right before the PGA, we spent a few days together talking for hours and hours about why I do certain things and what I needed to do to be successful.

SI: He sent you a text message on Sunday morning before your final U.S. Open round. What did it say?

GW: "Every man dies, but not every man lives. You live for this moment. Go out and enjoy it." It was awesome because it wasn't a golf text. It was about enjoying the pressure.

SI: Before the tournament, Brooks Koepka said if he were another player and saw KOEPKA on the leader board, he'd think, "Really? Not again ... " What were you thinking when he made that early run on Sunday?

GW: I hadn't even teed off yet and I could hear the roar from his birdie at 1. And then he birdied 3 and 4 and 5. I knew he was coming. I played with Tiger Woods last year on Sunday at Bellerive, and I watched him shoot 64 and I was distracted by everything that came with playing with Tiger. I was determined not to let that happen again. I was focused on myself and controlling my emotions and not worrying about what anyone else was doing.

SI: You played a year of college basketball at Washburn, a DII school in Kansas, before transferring to KU. When did you realize you had a better chance to play professional golf?

GW: My first game in college, we went to Allen Fieldhouse to play Kansas. My assignment was to guard Kirk Hinrich. I realized 10 seconds into the game that they were at a different level, a level I wasn't physically capable of getting to. I needed to find something different to do, quickly. Fortunately, I had golf to fall back on.

SI: That backup plan worked out. Who was the coolest person to congratulate you after Sunday?

GW: I'm a huge sports guy, so getting messages from guys I grew up watching and following—Scott Van Pelt, Chris Paul, Charles Barkley, Adam Schefter—was really special.