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Whereas Watson generates his power with the unusual angles and levers in his homemade swing, and the long-limbed, supple, 6'3" Johnson has a massive arc, Woodland's action is built on blunt force. At times it appears as if he's swinging a hammer. "He is freakishly strong," says Bill Haas. "Basketball strong. I'm pretty sure his workouts growing up were more intense than mine."
Yet what Watson admires most about Woodland is not his pop. "It's his mind," says Bubba. "He's very patient, very focused. He looks very calm on the golf course. He never looks worried about anything."
Woodland has the self belief of a jock who grew up dominating team sports in his native Topeka, Kans. He was a standout shortstop who at 16 led his team to the NBC World Series title, hitting a grand slam in the semifinals to key a 5--4 victory. In high school hoops Woodland was an all-state shooting guard who carried his squad to two state championships. Kansas offered him a golf scholarship, but Woodland chose to play basketball at Topeka's Division II Washburn University. As a freshman he had his best game against Northwest Missouri State, scoring 21 second-half points in a barrage that included five straight three-pointers. Later that year, in the national tournament, Woodland made the winning free throws with eight seconds left to defeat West Texas A&M. For the season he shot 32% from three-point range and 87% from the line, but he was realistic enough to accept that basketball was not a viable career option. So in 2003, at the end of his freshman year, he transferred to Kansas and made golf his priority for the first time. He won four tournaments as a Jayhawk, then apprenticed on the Hooters and Nationwide tours.
Woodland's sudden rise is not a surprise to those who know him best. "He's the most confident person I've ever met," his girlfriend, Gabby Granado, told the Tampa Bay Times last year. "It is set in his mind, he just knows, that he will be Number 1 in the world. He's constantly working to be the best in the world, and he's not going to stop until he's there."
The buzz around Woodland only increased in November when he teamed with Matt Kuchar to win the World Cup for the U.S. After Woods, Kuchar was the second player Steinberg brought to his new post at Excel Sports, where he landed last July after leaving IMG. Shortly after the World Cup, Woodland reached out to Steinberg. It's clear that Woodland thought that even if he changed agents, he could maintain his relationship with his coach. "Randy has been everything to me," he said last week, and the affection was evident a few years ago when Royal Oaks was fund-raising to build Smith a new practice facility. Woodland was the first player to write a check. But Woodland's abrupt departure from Blake Smith and his agency, Hambric Sports, was a deal breaker. Says Randy Smith, "Gary's leaving was such a shock—I had no clue, and Blake had no clue. If Gary had sat down with Blake and said, I have problems with this, this and this, and I can't get it solved and I'm going to leave, I would still work with Gary. Because business is business. But the way this was handled, it put me in a position where I couldn't be a part of it."
In Maui, Woodland seemed to still be downcast about the split, but he tried hard to be philosophical, saying, "I made the decision that was best for me businesswise."
It was certainly a coup for Steinberg as he continues to build what he calls his "boutique agency." He plans to market Woodland "very aggressively," adding, "He's a nice kid with a lot of personality. He has a good look and a great background, in regards to being a basketball player turned golfer. And he hits it a mile. The public eats that up."
But Steinberg knows as well as anybody how quickly the hype can disappear. "It all comes back to performance," he says.
Woodland has the kind of talent that can make the game look easy, but he's now learning how quickly the business side of his job can complicate matters. Before he left Maui, Woodland was asked what he was looking for, philosophically, in his next coach. He gave a telling answer: