Bloomfield Hills — Things are about to change for Gary Woodland.
That’s kind of how it goes when you win the U.S. Open. The 35-year-old PGA Tour veteran accomplished that feat on Sunday by shooting 13-under at Pebble Beach Golf Links to hold off two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka by three shots. It was the fourth victory of Woodland’s career and life will never be the same.
Arguably the greatest golfer in the history of the sport is certain of that.
“His whole life will change,” Jack Nicklaus said on Monday. “It will change dramatically for him. All of a sudden, he’ll walk into a club and they’ll say, ‘Hi Mr. Woodland.’ He used to walk in and they’d say, ‘What’s your number? Sixty-four? Sixty-four, your locker is over there.’”
Nicklaus was at Oakland Hills for the Golf Association of Michigan Centennial and Foundation Fundraiser being held ahead of the Michigan Amateur, which is being played on the North Course beginning Tuesday. He was set to speak at a private fundraising dinner on Monday night at Oakland Hills but took time to talk some golf as practice rounds were underway during the afternoon.
And what better authority than the man with more major championships — 18 — than any other golfer. That milestone is currently being challenged by Tiger Woods, who won his 15th career major in April at The Masters. But after missing the cut at the PGA Championship and never truly being in the hunt last week, the questions are again starting to surface whether Woods will catch Nicklaus.
The next chance for Woods will be at the British Open next month. Until then, any talk of majors will be about what Woodland accomplished over the weekend. He likely won’t be pushing Nicklaus and Woods, but he is happy to join the elite among professional golf while adjusting to everything that comes with it.
“The press will walk in and you guys will want to talk to him,” Nicklaus explained. “Nobody wanted to talk to him before. He’s always been a good golfer and is a super-nice guy, but his life will just change dramatically. The demand on his time, the people that want to see him, the people that want to invite him to do things, be part of this, part of that. It will change a lot.
“Plus his bank account probably changed a couple million bucks, too.”
That it did, to the tune of more than $2 million. It also helped Woodland jump more than 10 spots in the World Golf Rankings to No. 12, as well as moving into fifth place in the FedEx Cup standings.
Woodland is taking this week off and will tee it up next week at the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club.
As he prepared for last month’s Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, Woodland said he was looking forward to playing the first-year tournament on a course that will be new to him, as well.
“I heard it’s just a great traditional golf course,” Woodland said. “I know they’ve made some changes to it, so I haven’t talked to anybody since the changes have happened. Everybody that has been up there say it’s a great golf course, so I’m looking forward to getting up there and checking it out.”
He’ll be checking it out as a major champion, something Nicklaus is used to. He’s also familiar with the South Course at Oakland Hills, the same course Ben Hogan called “The Monster.”
Nicklaus has played in seven major championships at Oakland Hills, winning the 1991 U.S. Senior Open. On Monday, he reminisced about his first time at the course for the 1961 U.S. Open when he played two practice rounds with Hogan.
“It was very flattering to play with Hogan,” Nicklaus said. “I played with Hogan in ’60 at Cherry Hills in the last two rounds (of the U.S. Open) and the next year at Augusta he walked in the locker room with the couple pairs of shoes over his shoulders. He called everybody ‘fella.’ He goes, ‘Hey, fella. How you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m fine, Mr. Hogan, how are you?’ He says, ‘Good. You got a game?’ And I said, ‘I do now.’
"So we went out and played a couple practice rounds at Augusta and then when I got here we did the same thing when asked me to play a couple practice rounds with him. So it was very flattering that Ben Hogan took an interest in a young kid. It was a big part of my life.”
Nicklaus also lamented how he lost that U.S. Open in 1961 because of a double-bogey on No. 12 in the final round thanks to a shot blown into a tree by a sudden gust of wind.
“I finished second the year before at Cherry Hills and then I came here and did that,” Nicklaus said. “And of course I got lucky the next year and won at Oakmont. But that was sort of the start of my career.
“I enjoyed playing up here.”