Inside the unlikely shot that won Gary Woodland the U.S. Open

June 18, 2019

Gary Woodland had Brooks Koepka breathing down his neck, but he didn’t flinch—and pulled off the shot that won him the U.S. Open. Woodland, who on Sunday claimed his first major title, led by two strokes with two holes to play at Pebble Beach and sealed his victory with a crafty chip shot on the 17th green.

It was the shot of the day, despite the fact that Woodland said he was more proud of his 3-wood on the 14th hole, which carried a bunker and set up a birdie. Woodland said that shot on 14 gave him the confidence he needed to execute the chip on 17.

On the 220-yard par-3 17th, Woodland found the right edge of the green but was still 91 feet and 3 inches from the hole. Due to the tough angle to the back left pin, bogey loomed as a likely outcome, meaning his lead would be cut to one and perhaps even less, since Koepka was playing the par-5 18th hole in front of him.

Woodland said he wasn’t left with many options, so he grabbed a 64-degree wedge, took a big swing and lofted the ball into the air. It bounced a few times before checking up and running past the hole (nearly going in) before stopping 2 feet, 2 inches away.

“If I putted it, I don’t think I could have got within 20 feet,” Woodland said. “Fortunately I did have that shot earlier in the week. And I was just trying to get it down there, trying to get it past the hole so I could be putting back uphill, and it came off perfectly. I clipped it nicely. [My coach] Pete Cowen and I were working on trying to hit spinners off that early this week. That’s what I was thinking about when I was standing over it. And it came out perfectly.”

Perhaps what was most impressive about the shot was Woodland’s divot, or lack thereof. A tight lie like that leaves little room for error and can easily result in a blade or chunked chip, but Woodland clipped it remarkably cleanly. Check out the photo below, taken not long after Woodland hit the shot, to see just how crisp his chip came out (and how little grass was removed). You can see that the middle of the photo, where Woodland made impact, is slightly darker.

While this shot might be difficult for your average player, it’s one Woodland had practiced for years.

“When I started to transition into golf, I started working with Randy Smith, in 2005 I believe, and the short game was really what was really bad, to be honest with you. And so my whole deal was I had to hit chips off putting greens all the time, and there were some times where superintendents weren’t a huge fan of me,” he said. “But I’ve hit a lot of chip shots off putting greens, and I credit that to Randy Smith.”

We know what happened after that. Woodland made his par, Koepka failed to make birdie on 18 and Woodland led by two on the 72nd hole. He still made birdie anyway to win his first major title by three strokes.