He’s certainly not alone in this assessment, but Gary Woodland would prefer to expunge last year from his memory as quickly as possible.
“I’d like to erase 2020, but I think a lot of people would like to erase 2020 from what’s going on,” Woodland said after Thursday opening round of the Farmers Insurance Open, one in which he shot a silky smooth 66 with identical 33s to climb near the top of the leaderboard. “Hopefully, we can continue to stay where we’re at and continue to build on it.”
Where he’s at is a place without pain, for the first time in a long time. A hip labral tear had messed with the Topeka, Kansas, product for months and what should have been a magnificent victory lap at the 2020 U.S. Open turned into a painful dose of mortality. Woodland was at Winged Foot, but realistically, he shouldn’t gave been.
“The low point was Thursday of the U.S. Open. I mean. … I broke down, coaches wanted me to pull out. I ended up playing. It’s hard for me to pull out, it’s not in me,” he said. “You played in pain your whole life through all sports. It’s a little different out here, though. The best players in the world are out here day in, day out, and on top of that, you’re throwing Winged Foot in.
“But as defending champ, it meant a lot to me to be there, it meant a lot to me to play, so I tried to give it all I had.”
He nearly opted to have surgery the following week, but instead decided on a series of injections and other means to ease the pain. In retrospect, he thinks surgery might have been a smarter decision, but he’s pleased with the way the pain has subsided in the new year.
Last week, he posted four rounds of 70 or less in finishing T-16 at the American Express. And on Thursday he looked like the Woodland of old, the one with four PGA Tour wins to his credit, as he played bogey-free golf at Torrey Pines’ North Course.
“I went and saw the doctor (after the U.S. Open) and they wanted to do surgery, so that was the low part for me. I just opted not to do that and try to take a different route and we’re here now, so that’s a good thing, but I have a long way to go,” he said. “I’m not 100 percent, but I’m not in pain and from that we can continue to build.”
Woodland was playing last season, but the pain kept him off the range. While others were honing their skills, he was simply trying to preserve his body for the next round.
But now, he’s been back to a standard routine with swing coach Justin Parsons, even though he’s only slipped into that schedule since January 7.
“I’m still working with Pete Cowen, but strictly on short game now. So (January 7th) was the first time JP and I really sat down and started working. We cranked up the speed that day,” Woodland said. “It was the first time I swung hard that day and I was sore the next day, so that was a little nerve-wracking. At that point, I wasn’t walking, either. … Last week was the first time I walked 18 holes. I walked with the girls in the morning and would come back and was locked up. It was a big test last week.”
A self-admitted Kansas athletic fan, Woodland said he’s been working through some bad habits that developed while trying to swing around the pain in his hip. On Thursday, though, he didn’t show any signs of reverting to those habits as he birdied two of his first five holes and didn’t give any shots back.
He stands two shots behind Patrick Reed and Alex Noren—each of whom opened the tournament with a round of 64—but Woodland seemed to have the widest smile at Torrey Pines.
“My body’s trending in the right direction. The future’s the big deal,” Woodland said. “As long as I continue to stay healthy, I think I can avoid surgery and I think I can have a long career out here.”