Detroit — When Gary Woodland stood on the first tee Wednesday morning at the Detroit Golf Club, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
It was just after 7 a.m. and he was getting ready to play with his pro-am group ahead of Thursday’s start for the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic. It was like any other week, at any other PGA Tour event in any city in America.
Then, he heard it.
“2019 U.S. Open champion, Gary Woodland.”
“I was surprised on the first tee,” Woodland said. “I just wasn’t expecting to hear that. I was out there thinking about what kind of shot (I would hit).”
Woodland wasn’t expecting to hear it because there was never any reason for someone to say it. But after winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach nearly two weeks ago for his first major victory and fourth career PGA Tour title, there’s a lot changing in Woodland’s life.
After fending off Brooks Koepka’s bid for a three-peat in the U.S. Open, Woodland spent the first part of last week on a media blitz, hitting New York for a handful of appearances before finally making it home to South Florida by late Wednesday.
It was that moment when the whirlwind stopped, and Woodland started to appreciate what he had accomplished.
“Wednesday getting home I hadn’t seen my son,” Woodland said. “My son ran into my arms and that was – makes me emotional now thinking about it, but that was every bit as good as getting that trophy. I hadn’t seen him in two weeks, so that was special.
“And his birthday, I had a bunch of family come down. It was nice just to sit back, reflect, talk about the week before. I was glad I had a week off. I think it would have been a bit much to try to play last week for me. Being at home and just having my family there was really nice.”
That time will be even more valuable moving forward. As Jack Nicklaus said last week, Woodland’s life is about to change “dramatically” as a major champion, a fact he is starting to come to grips with this week.
On Tuesday, his planned 18-hole practice round became 9 after he spent more time than usual signing autographs. That was the case again on Wednesday and likely won’t change for quite some time.
Others who have experienced life after the first major have been quick with the advice.
“I said, ‘You've got to learn the word ‘no,’” said Bubba Watson, who won the first of his two Masters titles in 2012. “There were some other people who reached out to him and said, ‘You've got to learn 'no' real fast.
“Six months will go by real fast, and if you don't say ‘no,’ you'll be tired. Six months from now he'll be exhausted. With two young kids in his life, he's got to watch it and make sure he saves his energy. But the word ‘no’ is going to be big because of sponsors, because of more fans, more people pulling at him, more tournaments pulling at him. You've just got to pace yourself.”
Pacing himself will be tough as his wife, Gabby, is expecting twin girls in August. With 2-year-old Jaxson at home, life is about to get even more hectic.
However, considering what the Woodlands have already been through, there seems to be little that can shake them. Gabby was pregnant with twins in 2017 when Woodland announced they had lost one baby to a miscarriage. Jaxson was born that summer and now the family is about to grow even as Woodland’s professional star is shining its brightest.
And he’s got plenty of support from his fellow Tour pros.
“(Winning the U.S. Open) was special obviously,” Rickie Fowler said, “as well as with what him and his wife, Gabby, have gone through with the first miscarriage and now she’s pregnant with twin girls. It’s cool for Gary. He’s a good guy, one of the most well-liked guys out here, for sure.”
While plenty of his fellow players are happy for Woodland, that doesn’t mean they won’t be trying to beat him. That means Woodland will have to quickly adapt to playing as a major champion. He’ll take the next two events off before heading early to Northern Ireland for the British Open in an effort to add to his major count.
After that, it’s back to Memphis for the St. Jude Invitational, the beginning of the FedEx Playoffs and finally the Tour Championship.
Woodland will try to manage it all while continuing to improve his game and managing life as a husband, father and golfing superstar.
“Obviously, there’s a lot to play for,” Woodland said. “Management of my time’s a big deal, still making sure I’m getting better, still making sure I’m seeing my coaches and doing the right things at home to prepare myself to come out here this week.”
He’s preparing himself this week to tackle the Donald Ross-designed course at Detroit Golf Club. It’s not overly long but the greens are firm with plenty of slope and the players have raved about it the past couple of days. They’re also looking forward to being part of the first-year event that has created a buzz around town.
For Woodland, who played college basketball before focusing on golf, it seems like the perfect place to make his debut as a major champion.
“It’s a great sports town,” Woodland said. “You’ve got four major sports downtown all right there, which is awesome. So it’s nice to have a golf tournament here as well and I think they’ll be out in full force this week. I’ve heard we’ll have some rowdy holes out there, so it should be fun.”