Gary Woodland discusses his life-changing decision to transfer from NCAA basketball to a path that would lead to the PGA TOUR
Before turning to golf, you began your college career playing basketball at Washburn University. Did you ever have any aspirations of playing professional basketball?
Growing up in Kansas, basketball was everything. There are so many good basketball schools nearby, so the dream of playing at that next level was always present.
We won two state basketball championships during my time in high school, and that gave me the opportunity to go to Washburn University to play basketball on a scholarship.
Heading into college, I definitely had the belief that I could play basketball professionally. But in our first game, we played the University of Kansas and they were on a completely different level. They were so much bigger and so much faster than we were...
I quickly realized I wasn't going to be able to play basketball as a professional—I probably could've gone overseas and played, but I wasn't going to be able to do it as a career.
It was time for me to find something different.
I've always had the dream of playing professional sports, but after that first game, golf felt like the only viable option I had left. Fortunately, the University of Kansas honored the golf scholarship they originally offered me out of high school, so I changed schools and changed sports.
Up through high school, how much was golf a part of your life?
Golf was always a part of my life. But growing up in Kansas, you have four different seasons, so I had a lot of sports to choose from throughout the year.
Through high school, it was basically golf in the morning and baseball at night as well as basketball throughout the whole year. In the winter months, you can't really even touch a club, so golf was definitely the "3rd sport" for me at that time.
What made you pursue basketball over golf?
Going into college, I wasn't ready to give up basketball. Kansas was really the only school that wanted me to play golf, so I decided to play basketball because it felt like I had more potential based on how much I was being recruited.
Washburn had just lost in the national championship the year before I got there, so it felt an awesome opportunity for me to play competitively and chase the dream.
It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that really started to blossom in golf, but by then, I had already physically and mentally committed to play basketball.
How difficult was it to transition from basketball to golf?
Making the transition was tough. I always intended on playing both basketball and golf in college, but while I was in-season playing basketball, my coach wouldn't let me touch a golf club. Basketball was consuming so much of my life and it wasn’t until then that I realized how much I missed playing golf.
So once I made the transfer to Kansas, it was the first time in my life that I was able to purely focus on just one sport. I was 19 years old and golf was my sole focus for the first time... and that's when my game really started to take off.
At what point did you know you could take your golf game to the professional level?
I've always had the dream of playing at the next level, whether that was in golf, baseball, or basketball. So when I transferred to play golf, that goal was still clear.
After I transferred, golf completely took over. And after a couple years, I realized that I had a legitimate chance to play golf beyond college.
How do you think your experience playing college basketball helped you transition into golf?
In team sports, you learn how to compete even when you're not playing well. If you're not shooting well in basketball, you can play defense, you can pass, and you can do a lot of other things to overcome an area you're struggling with.
Golf has that same element. You're never going to have every aspect of your game at its highest potential—you need to find ways to win even if your driving or putting is slightly off. I've learned how to do that through playing other sports.
Describe the most dramatic differences in going from a team sport to an individual sport like golf.
The biggest difference for me (and it's something I still struggle with) is the adrenaline. In basketball, you use that adrenaline to your advantage. In golf, I try to keep my emotions bottled in because if I get too much adrenaline, I'm going to hit a 7-iron 240 yards—it's just something I won't be able to control.
The team element of basketball and baseball is also something I miss. I don't miss playing as much as I miss being in the locker room and hanging out with the guys. In golf, you're traveling around by yourself while most other players are with their families, so you're out there alone a lot of the time. It's hard to replicate the camaraderie of team sports.
I hear you're quite the ping-pong player as well. Do you see a professional ping-pong career in your future?
I love playing ping-pong. I blew my shoulder out my rookie year on TOUR and I had 9 months off. There wasn't much I could do with my left shoulder, so I started playing some ping-pong with my right hand to keep myself active.
I love the game... and luckily, there are a lot of good players out on TOUR, so it can get pretty competitive.
Now that you've made it to this level, what's the most rewarding part about being a TOUR golfer?
It's living your dream. I'm out here playing a game for a living. As I mentioned before, it was always my dream to be a professional athlete, and now I'm doing it. I get to travel the world, meet unbelievable people, see unbelievable places, and just play golf.
You must be a registered user to add a comment. If you've already registered, sign in. Otherwise, register and sign in.