Last August, I wrote a column that focused on two of golf's best players, Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka, who finished second and first in the 2018 PGA Championship. The main point of my article was to say that Tiger's comeback was genuine this time, but that the less sensational Koepka was really the man to beat in major tournaments these days. And I finished off by suggesting that golf fans should keep their eyes on Tiger as he went hunting for his fifteenth major at the 2019 Masters Tournament.
Well, at the risk of dislocating my shoulder by patting myself on the back too much, I have to say that I might be better as a golf prognosticator than I am at predicting presidential elections. A month after my column came out, Tiger won for the first time in five years on the PGA tour by snagging the prestigious Tour Championship, and if Justin Rose hadn't birdied the final hole, Tiger would have stolen away the even more lucrative Fed Ex Cup as well.
Then in April of this year, Tiger thrilled fans and critics alike by finally capturing that elusive fifteenth major at the Masters Tournament. And even though I had suggested the possibility, I'm not sure I really believed Tiger would ever win another major after a nearly ten-year drought until he actually did it.
But who do you suppose was right there at Augusta, nipping at Tiger's heels in a tie for second place? Yup, that tenacious majors contender, Brooks Koepka. And then in this year's PGA Championship, which was moved from August to May to generate more interest in the spring, Koepka became a back-to-back winner in that event, dominating the field, while Tiger, who hadn't played since his win at the Masters, looked rusty and failed to make the cut.
Koepka's PGA Championship gave him four wins in the last nine majors, a hot streak that has not been matched by any golfer besides Tiger in the last twenty years. So coming into this year's US Open, Koepka, the two-time defending champion in that event as well, was on a mission to try for the three-peat – which hadn't been done in the US Open for more than a hundred years, and never by an American.
But standing in Koepka's path this Father's Day weekend was another gentle giant named Gary Woodland. Like Koepka, Woodland was a multi-sport athlete in high school and college, and he looks more like a linebacker than a golfer. But his golfing skills were on full display at this year's US Open, as he took the lead on Friday and fended off challengers throughout the weekend, especially from the grinding Koepka, who had a chance to catch him right down to the 72nd hole of both their rounds.
Prior to Woodland's first major tournament win at this year's US Open, his biggest previous tour victory had come in 2018 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. As the defending champ at that event this February, Woodland took the opportunity to play a hole alongside a twenty-year-old golfer with Down syndrome named Amy Bockerstette. If you haven't seen the clip of Amy playing on the par three 16th hole as Gary encouraged her, you owe it to yourself to google that video. Amy hits her drive into the greenside bunker, and then as she reminds herself, “I got this,” she hits a neat sand shot onto the green. Woodland suggests to her that the putt might go a little left, and then says, “Why don't you just sink it?” Amy replies quietly, “I got this,” and calmly sinks her ten-foot putt for par in front of a gallery of cheering fans.
Many viewers will rightly commend Gary for the way that he encouraged Amy that day, but they might underestimate the effect that Amy's positive spirit had on Gary as he faced his own mental challenges on the weekend at the US Open. After his victory, he credited Amy's energy as his inspiration for his first major tournament victory. Her mantra is now his - “I got this!” - and any golfer, and every caring person, can benefit from the lesson that Amy has taught US Open Champion Gary Woodland.
John McColgan writes from his home in Joseph.