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When basketball career rimmed out, Gary Woodland sank himself into golf

PALM HARBOR — The name probably means nothing to you this morning. His resume means even less. For now, Gary Woodland is just some young guy from Kansas who won the Transitions Championship on Sunday when all of the bigger names flamed out.

And perhaps that will be the highlight of a career. Maybe he's destined to be one of those golfers whose name is vaguely familiar, even if you're never quite sure why. He wouldn't be the first player to arrive from nowhere with a round-trip ticket.

But do yourself a favor. Take a moment to get to know Woodland. Look at his past, and consider his future. Do it for fun. Do it for the heck of it.

Do it … just in case.

"He's the most confident person I've ever met," said his girlfriend, Gabby Granado. "It is set in his mind, he just knows, that he will be No. 1 in the world.

"He's constantly working to be the best in the world, and he's not going to stop until he's there."

Which is cute for a guy who passed up a Division I scholarship opportunity to play golf at Kansas because he still thought of himself as a basketball player. That's why Woodland went to Division II Washburn University in Topeka to be an undersized guard.

The plan lasted until Washburn was beaten 101-66 by KU in an exhibition game, and Woodland said he scored three points after shooting 1-for-7 from the floor.

Later, he called the golf coach at KU to make sure the scholarship offer was still good and soon began his golf career in earnest.

"He says things other golfers don't say. He doesn't talk about money or fame. He talks about being the best in the world," said his agent, Blake Smith. "For people who don't know him, you think, 'Wow. Okay.' For those of us who know him, it's not a joke.

"Up to now, he's been our little secret."

Up to now, there has been no reason to keep him a secret. It's not like he was tearing up lesser tours. It's not like he was the NCAA's top player at Kansas.

He was improving steadily, but he was far behind a lot of other golfers because he spent so much of his youth playing other sports.

Woodland, 26, was dragging a golf club behind his father on a course when he was barely a year old, and excelling in under-10 tournaments when he was 6, but he still considered himself a better baseball and basketball player through much of his youth.

"He has known from a very young age that he was going to be a pro-something. We just didn't know what it would be," his mother, Linda, said after she and her husband, Dan, gathered with 30-40 friends to watch Gary's victory on TV in a Topeka bar Sunday.

"He's just always had a confidence that it was going to happen. It's not egotistical, and it's not bragging. He's just always believed God had blessed him with athletic ability, and it was up to him to make it happen."

Maybe that explains the quote on the bedroom closet in his Orlando home:

"Greatness never takes a day off"

Or the one on the wall next to his bed:

"A delay is not a denial"

Woodland is particularly fond of that one because it applies to his first shot at the PGA Tour in 2009-10. After just two seasons on the Hooters Tour, Woodland earned his PGA card through Q-school at the end of 2008.

The only problem is he had a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder and tried playing through the pain as a PGA rookie in '09. When it became obvious that wouldn't work, he had surgery in August and missed the rest of that season and the first part of 2010.

He was given a medical exemption but wasn't physically ready to compete when he returned last season. Even so, the time away allowed Woodland to practice his short game the way he never had before.

Woodland returned to Q-school in December and earned his card again. The results have since been close to shocking.

The guy who almost didn't play Division I golf in college, the guy who never won an event on the Hooters or Nationwide tours, has finished second, tied for fifth, tied for sixth and first in his last six tournaments. He currently sits third on the PGA Tour money list.

Still, Woodland can't help but do things a little differently.

After Friday's round, he and Granado ordered a pizza and went back to their room to watch Kansas in the NCAA Tournament. And, now that the Masters is suddenly on his schedule, he should think about bypassing the tournament in Houston in two weeks, except he points out that the Final Four will be in Houston at the same time.

He didn't arrive with the same fanfare as other golfers, but Gary Woodland might just make enough noise to finally be noticed.

"The sky is the limit," Woodland said. "If we do what we're supposed to do, everything will be alright.

"I'm not setting performance goals, I'm just trying to get better every day."

When basketball career rimmed out, Gary Woodland sank himself into golf 03/20/11 [Last modified: Sunday, March 20, 2011 11:40pm]
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