MANHATTAN — Daniel Wood is about to play in the biggest golf tournament of his life.
That alone will create a unique mixture of pressure and excitement when he tees off at the NCAA golf regional at the Club at Old Hawthorne in Columbia, Mo., on Thursday. But those aren’t the only emotions he will feel during the 54-hole event. This tournament comes with a unique twist: it could be Wood’s last.
Wood, a Kansas State senior from Leander, Texas, plans to give up competitive golf when his college career ends. He hopes that happens in two weeks at the NCAA championship in Hutchinson, but it could also end this weekend.
“Coach (Tim) Norris is retiring at the end of the season and so am I,” Wood said inside K-State’s golf locker room last week.
Though Wood has the talent to play on a mini-tour and to chase every golfer’s dream of the PGA, he would rather pursue an administrative career in college athletics. He thinks K-State athletic director John Currie “has the coolest job in the world.” Not Phil Mickelson.
“I will be done with competitive golf, and that is simply because golf has given me a whole lot,” Wood said. “I really feel like I have given it my best effort and now I am just ready for a little bit different lifestyle. Traveling can be fun, but I really enjoy being home. Living week to week and trying to make cuts to support a family is not something I’m interested in. I don’t have a family yet, but when I do I don’t want them to rely on a hot putter to have their needs met. This is it, and I am good with that.”
Wood may be at peace with the approaching end of his competitive golf career, but, make no mistake, his main goal this week is to win.
The top five teams and the top-placing individual outside those teams from the Columbia Regional will advance to Prairie Dunes Country Club. Competing as an individual, he will need to post quality scores to move on.
“I can’t operate under any assumption that I will get in to the national tournament if I finish this high or that high,” Wood said. “The only guarantee is if you win. That is a tall task, so I’m not going in there worrying about anything other than playing the best golf I can.”
Norris thinks Wood’s best will be good enough.
“I feel really good about his chances going in,” Norris said, “just because he has local knowledge of the course. He has played there before and he has played well there. Daniel is good at minimizing his mistakes, and that it is important in a three-round tournament. You have to have a little bit of luck, but I really think his form is so good right now that he can go down there and give himself a good chance.”
Wood is the first K-State golfer to receive an individual invitation to a regional since 2010. And he is coming off his most impressive outing of the year, a seventh-place finish at the Big 12 Championship in which he shot 69 on the final two days. Wood was building toward that success, leading the Wildcats with a 72.38 stroke average and placing in the top 20 six times and the top five twice as a senior.
This will be Wood’s third trip to a regional, but his first as an individual. He made his first two appearances as a freshman and sophomore, the fifth and final member of talented teams.
Then he took an unusual journey, leaving K-State after his sophomore season to serve a Mormon mission in the Dominican Republic. He went two years without touching a golf club. When he returned, he needed a redshirt season to regain his competitive edge.
Not all college golf coaches would allow one of their top players to leave the program for two years, but Norris supported Wood from the start.
“I would love to have 10 Daniel Woods,” Norris said. “The perspective he has on the big world out there, as far as not taking things for granted after living without electronics and golf, is important. He can compartmentalize and put golf first for a portion of the day and then study and worship. He came back as a better and more mature player.”
Wood hopes that combination can help him extend his competitive golf career.
“This is the same tournament I played in as a freshman and as a sophomore, only this time I am in a position to perform,” Wood said. “Back then it was great to be there and I did my best, but I wasn’t the golfer I am today.”