Kansas City golf legend Tom Watson was thrilled to see Gary Woodland win his first major championship at the U.S. Open on Sunday.
Woodland, a Topeka native who played in college at Kansas, scored a 3-shot victory at Pebble Beach, the site of Watson’s memorable U.S. Open triumph in 1982 for the sixth of his eight major championships.
“I am very happy for my fellow Kansan and his family,” Watson said in a statement to The Star on Monday.
Watson said two shots were key to Woodland’s victory.
“His second shot to number 14 and the spectacular chip from on the 17th green to within two feet of the hole to maintain his two-shot lead will stand out in the annals of US Open history,” Watson said.
Koepka, the two-time defending champion, was playing in a group ahead of Woodland. Right after Koepka missed a birdie putt that would have tied him for the lead, Woodland hit a 3-wood from 263 yards within 16 feet of the hole on his second shot on the par-5 hole. He got down in 2 putts for a birdie that pushed the lead back to 2 shots.
That advantage appeared to be in jeopardy when he pushed his tee shot on the par-3 17th hole to the far right side of the green, about 90 feet from the hole.
He chose to use his 64-degree wedge instead of putter and hit within 2 feet of the hole, allowing him to save par.
Woodland then made a birdie on the par-5 18th hole, giving him a round of 69 and a 3-shot victory over Koepka. Woodland said keeping his focus helped him pull off those key shots.
“I knew I was playing good going in, but I’ve been playing good going into a lot of tournaments before and haven’t had the results I’d like,” he said in a news conference Sunday evening. “I was proud of myself to stay in it, to slow down a little bit, to slow my thinking down and really focus on what I was doing and not let my mind wander at all.”
Woodland, who played basketball at Washburn University before deciding to play golf at KU, was relieved when the final putt went in and he could celebrate with his dad on Father’s Day as well as other family members and friends.
“I’ve worked hard my whole life,” Woodland said. “I’ve been surrounded by amazing people and 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. And it all kind of came out of me.
“I never kind of let myself get ahead, just told myself it’s never over, and when the last putt went in, it all came out. I was more nervous afterwards than I was at all today. I’m glad it’s over with.”