It was a chip to rival Tom Watson's in 1982. Mark Townsend breaks down the moment that earned Gary Woodland his maiden major title
Of all the heroic shots played at Pebble Beach it is always Tom Watson’s chip-in at 17 in 1982 that tops the pile. He called it, he played it and he has his sixth major and first (and only) US Open title. Now we have a close contender after Gary Woodland produced his own piece of penultimate-hole magic, from across the other side of Pebble Beach’s hourglass-shaped green.
There was very little to fret about Woodland’s play all week but when he came off a long iron to the 17th there were one or two raised eyebrows. Two clear but with Brooks Koepka playing the par-5 18th, this was Woodland’s biggest test.
“Wasn’t too many options. If I putted it, I don’t think I could have got within 20 feet. Fortunately I did have that shot earlier in the week. And I was just trying to get it down there, trying to get it past the hole so I could be putting back uphill, and it came off perfectly.
“I clipped it nicely. Pete Cowen and I were working on trying to hit spinners off that early this week. That’s what I was thinking about when I was standing over it. And it came out perfectly.”
Cue a knowing knuckle rap from playing partner Justin Rose. Game knows game.
🎙️ "That is the shot of a champion!"
Woodland opts for a wedge from 90 feet and knocks to less than three feet!
— Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) June 17, 2019
Up ahead Koepka missed at the last which left Woodland with a two-shot cushion to play, in the end the winning margin would be three after Woodland actually made a birdie at 18 for the first time this week.
For all the hands-in-pocket casual air about our new US Open champion he admitted that he was paying closer attention to what Koepka was doing up ahead at 18.
“I could see [Koepka] on the green, I could see him putting, I didn’t know if it was for eagle or birdie. I saw that he missed it and I still didn’t know what it was for until after I hit the chip shot. When I was hitting that shot, I was trying to get it past the hole and give myself a chance to get four in the worst case.”
Rewind to the very early days, the days before Woodland had even turned pro and Woodland’s work around the greens was a big concern. There was always the length but there wasn’t always the finesse, technique and touch.
“When I started to transition into golf, I started working with Randy Smith, 2005, and the short game was really what was really bad, to be honest with you. My whole deal was I had to hit chips off putting greens all the time, and there were some times where superintendents weren’t a huge fan of me. But I’ve hit a lot of chip shots off putting greens, and I credit that to Randy Smith.”
Come the week’s end Woodland led the field in scrambling at 80 per cent. He made just four bogeys all week, tying the lowest by any player in a US Open over the last 50 years.
Woodland had worked with Butch Harmon for the past half dozen years and it was Harmon who recommended Cowen to have a look at his short game a year and a half ago. The Yorkshireman, who also looks after Koepka’s short game, then took over Woodland’s whole game six months ago.
The move has been a seamless one.
“When Butch decided to retire, it was an easy transition for me to full swing everything with Pete. Pete to me is like a coach. He’s not really a teacher, he’s a coach. He tells you this is the game plan, this is what we’re going to do, and then it’s up to me to go out and do it.
“But like Butch, he knows what to say and when to say it. He sent me an unbelievable text this morning that had nothing to do with my swing or technique. He said: ‘Every man dies, but not every man lives, and you live for this moment.’
“I thought about that a lot. He’s been great for me. But I think we’re only on the tip of the iceberg. We were working on short-game shots, he’s like, no, I don’t think you can execute that under pressure. Let’s go back and do it this way, let’s simplify things.
“I didn’t hit it well on Thursday. I went straight to the range and we worked for a long time to figure it out. And that’s nice to have him here under huge moments and guided me along the way. I’m hitting as good as I ever have.”
Among Cowen’s other influences are helping Woodland feel comfortable shaping the ball both ways – “I’ve been a cutter of the ball a long time. Pete has got me comfortable working the ball both ways if I need to” – and suggesting taking out a driving iron for a 3-iron after the first round.
And Cowen has added more purpose to Woodland’s practice and warm-up sessions. The 35-year-old had had the same routine since 2007 and Cowen changed it the week of the PGA at Bethpage where Woodland would finish 8th.
They practise what they might get on the course so there is less chance of the unexpected – an example would be practising from the divots that Woodland seemingly kept finding himself in.
“Pete’s very old school, very down to the point. He gives me the work, and I’ve got to go out and do it. And for a better word, there’s no bull crap with Pete. It’s this way and go out and do it.
“What makes Butch so good, what makes Pete so good is he knows what to say and when to say it. He’s not giving me too much information out there. He’s very calm on the range beforehand. So it’s nice to have him out there.”
But back to the shot of the week and that 17th green at Pebble: “It was the 64-degree wedge. And I clipped it perfectly.
“The key is to get the heel off the ground. I really get toe down with the edge of the wedge. You don’t want that heel to grab at all. I’m almost hitting it off the toe. I get really close to it and try to get the leading edge to come in first. I want to clip the back of the ball solidly. The key for me is get the toe down, get a little closer to it and pick it off the ground.”