PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It’s no secret that basketball, not golf, was Gary Woodland’s first love.
Growing up in Kansas, Woodland was part of two high school state championship teams at Shawnee Heights High School. He ended up attending Washburn University on a basketball scholarship.
But things changed early in his freshman year, and he ended up switching his focus entirely to golf after trying to guard future NBA first-round draft pick, Kirk Hinrich, in his very first game.
“The moment really got forced on me. … I always believed if basketball didn’t work out I could fall back on golf,” Woodland said. “Our first game we played Kansas at the University of Kansas. They were ranked No. 1 in Division I, and we were ranked No. 2 in Division II. And that decision got forced on me really quickly.
“I was guarding Kirk Hinrich, and, like, okay, I need to find something else, because this ain’t gonna work. And that was my first game in college. I was a two-time state champion, all-state, blah, blah, blah, but that was a different level.”
While Hinrich went on to have a 13-year career in the NBA, Woodland transferred to Kansas his sophomore year to play for the golf team.
And now here he is, having dethroned back-to-back U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka at Pebble Beach.
“I’ve just always believed in myself. No matter what I’ve done, from when I was a young kid, I always believed I would be successful,” Woodland said. “I believed I would play professional sports. I always believed I would be in this moment. And the question about if I ever dreamed of making the putt on the last hole of a U.S. Open when I was a kid, no, I didn’t. But I hit a lot of game-winning shots on the basketball court when I was a kid. And that’s what I did. I’ve always believed in myself.”