Falling somewhere between the collision of two football helmets on an NFL Sunday and a high-powered rifle shot, the sound of Gary Woodland's driver striking a golf ball is hard to forget. And even if you do, says Randy Smith, Woodland's instructor, you'll certainly remember what he just did to the ball.
"You know Tiger's 'stinger'? Well, Gary's version of the stinger is a 2-iron shot that flies about 12 to 15 feet off the ground for 270 yards," Smith says. "That's not an exaggeration. I've never seen another man do that."
Proclamations like that help fuel Woodland's growing reputation as a true masher of the ball and the best athlete in men's professional golf. He ranked sixth on the PGA Tour in driving distance (305.4 yards) at the end of June. Doesn't sound über-impressive until you learn he's doing that with his "70-percent swing," often using a 3-wood, and that he missed half a year in 2009 after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Woodland has throttled back on his power, he says, and started relying on a fade with the driver in hopes of playing from the fairway more often.
"I used to look at a 335-yard carry and know that I could do it if I jumped on it. Now if it's a 315-yard carry, I really have to jump on it. It's been an adjustment," says Woodland, who took advantage of his newfound accuracy to win the tour's Transitions Championship in March. He has finished tied for sixth or better in five other events this year. "With the fade, I have to tee it up high and hit it as high as I can. That's how I get my distance."
That's mostly true, says his fitness trainer, Dave Herman, but Woodland also relies on an explosive lower body to power his shots. Woodland is a stocky 6-foot-1, has a 30-inch vertical leap and could no doubt have pursued a career in a variety of sports. (He was a high school all-star in baseball and played a year of college hoops at Washburn University.)
"One of Gary's gifts," Herman says, "is his ability to synchronize his body in any athletic movement."
-- Ron Kaspriske