Home Sports Gary Woodland looks to U.S. Open return as potential rebound

Gary Woodland looks to U.S. Open return as potential rebound

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Gary Woodland has often struggled to find his game since the PGA Tour came back from its COVID-19 pause.

A return to the U.S. Open as the defending champion could be the shot in the arm he needs to get going again.

“When I haven’t played great, it’s tough sometimes to get energy and get things moving [without fans],” Woodland said Tuesday at Winged Foot. “Coming back here being the defending champ, I have a lot of energy, a lot of good emotion that I’ve kind of struggled with the last couple months. I’m excited to be back here.

“That was special for me last year. But this week I think I’m excited that being the defending champ I have some emotion, I have some energy, and hopefully I can ride that.”

Woodland put together a breakthrough performance at Pebble Beach to capture the 2019 U.S. Open, his first major championship, by shooting 13-under and fending off two-time defending champ Brooks Koepka.

The 36-year-old has not won a tournament since, with his best finish this year coming at the Workday Charity Open in July, when he shot a 12-under at Muirfield Village to finish tied for fifth. But in five events since then, Woodland has either missed the cut (The Northern Trust) or finished over par and well off the lead, including a 2-over at the PGA Championship in August to place tied for 58th.

Gary Woodland
Gary WoodlandPGA TOUR via Getty Images

Along the way, Woodland has started working with a new swing coach, Justin Parsons. His coach when he won the U.S. Open last year, Pete Cowen, has been unable to travel to the United States because of COVID-19, “so I was practicing hard, but just probably practicing the wrong things,” Woodland said. Parsons came to Woodland’s house last week to work together for the first time outside of a tournament, which he is hoping pays dividends.

“That just kind of freed me up, kind of communications, back to similar stuff I was hearing before and just kind of freeing me up and getting some of the bad stuff out of my head and coming out here this week with a little bit more confidence for sure,” said Woodland, who will tee off at 1:05 p.m. Thursday with Shane Lowry and amateur Andy Ogletree.

Woodland has also heard from another former coach, Butch Harmon, the New Rochelle native whose father, Claude, was the longtime head pro at Winged Foot.

“I wish Butchy was here this week,” Woodland said. “Like he always told me, there’s no tricks to this place, you’ve just got to go out and hit good golf shots. He always told me it set up well for me, and I’m going to take that with me this week.”

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