Before Gary Woodland began to really take golf seriously, which was right in the middle of his junior year of high school, we was shooting the lights out on the basketball team. Woodland was so good that he was offered scholarships from a handful of smaller Division I and Division II schools. The dream was to play at the University of Kansas, and by dream we mean pipe dream. As talented as he was, playing for such a storied program was out of the question for the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Woodland.
But Woodland still wanted to give hoops a try, so he went to Washburn University, a D-II school in his hometown of Topeka, Kansas, to play both basketball and golf. Woodland skipped fall golf to focus on basketball, playing out his freshman season as a backup shooting guard. He averaged six points per game and knocked down 38 of his 120 three-point attempts on the year, but he knew he would never be good enough on the defensive end to have a real impact. So he decided to give up basketball and go all in on golf. He transferred to Kansas the following year to play on the golf team, a decision he said was "very hard" in this ESPN story by Josh Weinfuss written this past March.
"I realized I was good in the state but these guys on a national level were a little different," Woodland told ESPN. "I wasn't quick enough and that was a big deal. I could shoot the heck out of it. I could see. I could handle the basketball but I wasn't quick enough to move defensively.
"Offensively, I was fine. I could get around, I could do stuff, but defensively I wasn't quick enough. I couldn't keep up. That was the biggest thing. And that was at the Division II level. You talk about Division I level. Our first game was at KU and I learned quickly I needed to find something else."
Woodland recalled the story of that game against Kansas during his U.S. Open victory press conference at Pebble Beach on Sunday. While he did play through his entire freshman season, he knew the very first game that this whole basketball thing wasn't going to last. On opening night in an exhibition game against the No. 1 ranked Kansas Jayhawks, Woodland had to guard Kirk Hinrich, a future first round pick in the NBA Draft who went on to have a 13-year career in the Association. Sounds like that was a rough night at the office for Woodland.
"The moment really got forced on me," said Woodland of the moment he knew basketball wasn't going to last . "I went to school, to Washburn to play basketball, and I always believed if basketball didn't work out I could fall back on golf.
"And our first game we played Kansas at the University of Kansas. They were ranked No. 1 in Division I, and we were ranked No. 2 in Division II. And that decision got forced on me really quickly. I was guarding Kirk Hinrich, and, like, okay, I need to find something else, because this ain't gonna work. And that was my first game in college. I was a two-time State champion, All-State, blah, blah, blah, but that was a different level."
There you have it, folks. Kirk Hinrich ended Gary Woodland's basketball career, and he may have unknowingly helped him turn into a U.S. Open champion.