CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Relocating to North Carolina isn’t on the radar for golfer Gary Woodland. Maybe it should be. After all, he sure looks at home here.
Woodland, Topeka native and Kansas Jayhawks product, settled into the newly remodeled digs at Quail Hollow Club on Thursday in the opening round of the 99th PGA Championship. He carded a solid 3-under-par 68, which leaves him one shot behind leaders Thorbjorn Olesen and Kevin Kisner.
Joining Woodland in a five-way tie for third are U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepke, Chris Stroud, D.A. Points and Grayson Murray. Ryder Cup players Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed are among seven players another shot back, and the group at 1 under includes four of the world’s top seven players (No. 1 Dustin Johnson, No. 3 Hideki Matsuyama, No. 6 Jon Rahm and No. 7 Jason Day).
Quail Hollow, which is hosting its first major championship, always has suited Woodland’s game. He has played there five times in the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship. On each occasion, Woodland made the cut. He placed top 25 in the event from 2014-16, including a tie for fourth in 2015 (the Wells Fargo was played this year at Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington so Quail Hollow could focus on the PGA Championship).
The 89-day renovation of Quail Hollow that was completed last August features a longer layout (7,600 yards). Apparently, it is right-in-his-wheelhouse material for Woodland.
“I’m very comfortable on this golf course. It sets up good to my eye,” he said. “The changes they made — I hit more drivers now than I ever do. It’s a longer golf course. Almost like they did it for me, I think.”
Woodland is more relaxed. At peace. Reaching that point, though, has been deeply painful, and it has come at a price.
“This has been the hardest year of my life,” the 33-year-old Woodland said, later adding, “it puts things in perspective real quick. Obviously, bad rounds don’t mean as much.”
He and his wife, Gabby, lost one of their unborn twins in March. Then son Jaxson Lynn was born in June but arrived 10 weeks early, so concerns remained.
“Obviously, with what we dealt with for a long time and the struggle my wife has had to deal with … it’s been hard for me to leave home,” Woodland said. “He’s finally out of the hospital but still hooked up to a monitor. He’s still working on breathing, but he’s home and that’s a big relief for my wife.”
Woodland’s mind is clearer, too. Knowing that Jaxson is making progress has everything to do with it. Next week, Jaxson is scheduled to have surgery on a hernia.
“Huge relief, just knowing he’s safe,” Woodland said. “For so long before he was born we didn’t know if he was going to make it. And then he was born so early, the doctors and nurses (at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City) were so good. There wasn’t any more guessing. We knew what was going on and we knew he was in good hands.”
The driver was good in Woodland’s clutches Thursday. He played the front 3 under, recording birdies on the par-4 second, par-3 sixth and par-5 seventh. The former Shawnee Heights standout added another birdie at the 577-yard par-5 15th to reach 4 under, but followed it with a bogey on the par-4 16th.
“Obviously, I drove the golf ball very well today,” Woodland said. “Got off to a good start. Birdied the second hole, which is a bonus on that golf hole. I kind of gave one away there on 10 (a par 5); had a 3-wood in the middle of the fairway and to make par is a little frustrating. But outside of that I drove the ball great and gave myself a lot of chances and I’m happy with where I’m at.”
Woodland also was pleased with his putting. He averaged 1.6 putts per green in regulation on Thursday, a major improvement from recent weeks.
“I haven’t made putts in a long time,” he said. “I made a couple, I guess, in Canada (he finished fourth in the RBC Canadian Open, buoyed by a 63 in the second round).”
Woodland credited his progress on the greens to work he did earlier this week with Brad Faxon and Steve Stricker — players he called “two of the greats” when it comes to putting.
“Lot of setup stuff,” he said. “Mostly the day before a major it’s all about freeing it up, and we’re not trying to do too much, not trying to change anything. Just to get comfortable is the big deal.”
No doubt Woodland sees Quail Hollow as cozy. Whether it results in the place where he wins his first major championship remains to be seen. Woodland, though, is in a better place now personally and professionally.
“I’ve played well here on this golf course in the past,” Woodland said. “To see a couple of putts to go in early, I was very happy.”
HOLE-BY-HOLE LOOK AT WOODLAND’S OPENING ROUND
Topeka native Gary Woodland is tied for third after one round at the PGA Championship, one shot behind leaders Thorbjorn Olesen and Kevin Kisner. Following is a hole-by-hole look at how Woodland carded a 3-under 68 Thursday at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C.
NO. 1 | 524-YARD PAR 4
Par: 309 yards to right rough, 206 yards to left intermediate, 23 1/2 feet to within 21 inches
NO. 2 | 452-YARD PAR 4
Birdie: 306 yards to right fairway, 155 yards to green, 9 feet for birdie
NO. 3 | 483-YARD PAR 4
Par: 301 yards to left fairway, 195 yards to green, 50 feet to 13 inches
NO. 4 | 184-YARD PAR 3
Par: 188 yards to right rough, 40 feet to green, 4 feet to save par
NO. 5 | 449-YARD PAR 4
Par: 309 yards to left fairway, 143 yards to left intermediate, 15 feet to green, 6 1/2 feet to save par
NO. 6 | 249-YARD PAR 3
Birdie: 251 yards to green, 23 feet for birdie
NO. 7 | 546-YARD PAR 5
Birdie: 304 yards to right fairway, 243 yards to right rough, 47 feet to green, 2 1/2 feet for birdie
NO. 8 | 346-YARD PAR 4
Par: 217 yards to right rough, 95 yards to right front greenside bunker, 93 feet to green, 6 1/2 feet to save par
NO. 9 | 505-YARD PAR 4
Par: 284 yards to right fairway, 221 yards to green, 50 1/2 feet to 4 1/2 feet, saves par
NO. 10 | 592-YARD PAR 5
Par: 308 yards to right fairway, 305 yards to left intermediate, 49 feet to 10 feet, leaves birdie putt short by 1 inch
NO. 11 | 462-YARD PAR 4
Par: 288 yards to fairway bunker, 167 yards to green to 36 feet, misses birdie putt by 2 feet
NO. 12 | 456-YARD PAR 4
Par: 311 yards to left fairway, 138 yards to 13 1/2 feet, misses birdie putt by 1 inch
NO. 13 | 208-YARD PAR 3
Par: 185 yards to front center greenside bunker, 53 1/2 feet to 10 1/2 feet, makes putt to save par
NO. 14 | 344-YARD PAR 4
Par: 237 yards to left fairway, 112 yards to 10 feet, misses birdie putt by 19 inches
NO. 15 | 577-YARD PAR 5
Birdie: 304 yards to left fairway, 269 yards to right rough, 49 feet to 6 feet, makes birdie putt
NO. 16 | 506-YARD PAR 4
Bogey: 284 yards to right intermediate, 189 yards to right fairway, 78 feet to green, leaves 15-foot putt for par 1 inch short
NO. 17 | 223-YARD PAR 3
Par: 228 yards to right fairway, 51 feet to within 6 inches
NO. 18 | 494-yard PAR 4
Par: 320 yards to right rough, 147 yards to right fairway, 64 feet to within 3 feet to save par
Note: Some short distances approximations