SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It had been five long years since he won, but that wasn’t what was on Gary Woodland’s mind when he made the final putt and pointed to the sky.
He was thinking of the family member who was gone but not forgotten.
“Yeah, that was just kind of a tribute to last year,” Woodland said after shooting a final-round 64 and beating Chez Reavie with a par on the first playoff hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. “Obviously, we lost a little girl, and being there, seeing my wife give birth to her, that’s real.”
Woodland’s eyes flooded with tears. “Just wanted her to know I still love her,” he said.
On March 29 of last year, Woodland released a statement that he and his wife, Gabby, had lost one of their unborn twins. He had just withdrawn from the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play, and in the statement he added that “doctors will be monitoring the health of my wife and the other baby for the remainder of the pregnancy.”
Just over 10 months later, Gabby and their son, Jaxson, surprised him on the 18th green as the family celebrated Gary’s first victory since the 2013 Barracuda Championship. Woodland calls Jaxson his “miracle” son, and he and Gabby held him close and continue to do so after the trials of 2017.
“Really took off about four months,” said Woodland, who moves from 38th to fifth in the FedExCup standings. “But I found a way to get to the TOUR Championship, kind of battled through the end of the year, and I couldn’t wait for 2018 to start.”
Said Brennan Little, Woodland’s caddie: “His demeanor has been better. Last year was a bit of a mess. I mean, not really knowing his schedule, missing a few events, going home. Now the wife and the baby have been out; his attitude has been really good, which I think you can see in some of the rounds in Hawaii and San Diego, he got off to some bad starts and brought them back.”
Woodland was trending in the right direction after a T7 at the Sony Open in Hawaii and a T12 at the Farmers Insurance Open. Matt Kuchar, who hung around to congratulate Woodland after the victory, said he played nine holes with Woodland on Tuesday before the start of the WMPO and was wowed. “He was driving it just so well,” Kuchar said.
In addition to his wife and son, Woodland was cheered on by his parents, his sister and her husband, and others from back home in Topeka, Kansas. (He now lives in South Florida.) He got a text from his coach, Butch Harmon, on Thursday, urging him to put four good rounds together and not worry about the score. He did that, and recent putting lessons from friend Brad Faxon paid dividends, as well, as Woodland made 200 feet of putts on the weekend.
“I was in the zone,” he said. “I mean, I really had it going. My caddie asked me when I got done, did I know I made nine birdies. I didn’t even know I did that.”
Now it’s on to California for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and the resumption of a career that for five years was sidetracked by frustration, injuries and loss.
“It’s really hard to put in words right now,” Woodland said. “Last year we battled through it, couldn’t get to the off-season quick enough, couldn’t start 2018 soon enough. For [Jaxson] to be here, it’s obviously a miracle, but I’m just so excited to share this with him and my family, and hopefully it’s the start of something special.”