PEBBLE BEACH, CA. (Reuters) - Gary Woodland will forever be a U.S. Open champion thanks to his three-shot victory at Pebble Beach on Sunday.
But the 35-year-old will likely be better known as “that golfer” in a viral video he appeared in four months ago from the far less glamorous Waste Management Phoenix Open that has had more than 20 million views and climbing.
And that is ok with Woodland, who until Sunday was the mostly anonymous figure playing second fiddle to Amy Bockerstette - a special Olympian golfer he credits with giving him the mental strength to see off a challenge from two-time defending U.S. Open champion Brook Koepka to claim the biggest win of his career.
“She’s meant everything for me from a mental standpoint,” Woodland told reporters. “Life’s not always going to be bells and whistles.
“There are going to be bad things in your life, a lot of ups and downs, but the only thing you can control is your attitude. And if you do that, in the end good things will happen.
“I said — Amy told me a million times when we were on this whole I’ve got this, I’ve got this, and I told myself that a million times today, I’ve got this.”
Woodland’s chance meeting with Bockerstette came earlier this year at the Waste Management Open where as defending champion the PGA Tour asked him to play the famed par three 16th with her during a practice round.
The 16th at TPC Scottsdale is one of the most intimidating and rowdiest in all of golf, surrounded by grandstands and hospitality suites packed with partying golf fans.
Undaunted, Bockerstette bravely stepped up, knocked her tee shot into a bunker, blasted out to eight feet and rolled in a par putt, telling herself and Woodland each time, “I’ve got this”.
That courage and message has remained with Woodland as if it were tattooed on his forearm.
With his advantage cut to a single stroke and facing challenges from some of golf’s battle-tested major champions down the stretch, Woodland said it was exactly what he told himself to keep doubts from creeping in.
“Her attitude, her love for life, love for the game and her positive energy is so contagious,” said Woodland. “And I’ve had the pleasure to continue to speak with her.
“She sent me a nice video when I got sick and had to pull out of Wells Fargo. She sent me an amazing birthday video, singing happy birthday to me.
“She’s a special girl, special parents, and it’s nice to call her a friend.”
A three time winner on the PGA Tour, until Sunday Woodland had never found much success at golf’s biggest events.
He had not managed a top-10 finish in his first 27 majors before last year’s PGA Championship, where he tied for sixth.
Seven times Woodland had held the 54-hole lead like he did on Sunday and every time he had failed to close the deal.
But Woodland, who had his sights set on playing professional basketball before focusing on golf, said he never doubted that one day he would find success although he was not sure where.
“I’ve just always believed in myself,” said Woodland. “No matter what I’ve done, from when I was a young kid, I always believed I would be successful.
“I believed I would play professional sports. I always believed I would be in this moment.
“I always just wanted to be successful. I didn’t know what it was, what I was going to do.
“I fell in love with golf, and it’s transcended to today.”
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly