Golfer Gary Woodland a confident, grounded athlete

San Antonio — Now that there isn’t a hotter golfer on the planet, the demands on Gary Woodland’s time have increased exponentially.

Certainly, I wouldn’t have been offended had he not found the time to call me back Wednesday. After all, he has a tee time with Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson today in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, Fla., Woodland’s adopted hometown.


Woodland found the time, and a story he told me on the phone about his restaurant choice for a celebration dinner after his first tour victory, last Sunday in the Transitions Championship in Orlando, showed you can take the boy out of Kansas, but you can’t take the Kansas out of this Topeka boy.

After the victory, Woodland had just fulfilled his multiple obligations when agent Blake Smith asked him where he wanted to feast, not expecting the answer he received.

“Man, I want to go to McDonald’s,” Woodland told Smith. “I just want to get home and watch the KU game.”

And that’s what he did, catching the second half of the victory against Illinois. The dinner plans he made with stunning girlfriend Gabby Granado — they ordered a pizza and ate it in front of the TV — enabled them to watch Friday’s entire telecast of the Boston University game.

Woodland always has mastered that rare juggling act of abundant self-confidence that helps him aim to become the best in his field with a grounded personality, much like his favorite basketball coach, Bill Self.

Woodland’s opinion on Self’s team carries more weight than most. Out of high school, he turned down a golf scholarship from then-Kansas coach Ross Randall to play basketball at Div. II Washburn University. After a year, he transferred to KU to pursue golf. He still loves talking hoops, specifically KU hoops.

“I think Brady Morningstar is almost the MVP of this team,” Woodland said. “Tyrel Reed has shown great leadership. The twins are two of the best players in the country. Tyshawn (Taylor) has been playing great of late, and coach Self is always the X factor.”

Woodland ranks third on the PGA Tour money list with more than $1.8 million in earnings this season and looks forward to being part of this weekend’s featured pairing.

“Dustin Johnson’s one of my best friends out here,” Woodland said. “We’ve traveled together and played practice rounds, and I’ve always been a fan of Tiger, so that’s going to be exciting.”

Woodland’s victory qualified him for the Masters. He makes his first trip to Augusta, Ga., where he said he will play practice rounds this coming Monday and Tuesday to formulate a game plan with his caddy, Jon Yarbrough. Many tour veterans will skip next week’s Houston Open. Not Woodland. The Final Four is in Houston that weekend.

“I’d love to see them play for a national championship,” Woodland said of the Jayhawks. “Everyone is saying they have an easy road. I don’t know about that. I don’t think there’s any such thing as an easy road.”

He ought to know. He twice in three years made it through grueling Q school and through serious shoulder surgery to land the shot he’s now using to set himself up for a great life.

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