To win the 2019 U.S. Open, Gary Woodland needed less than three sleeves of Titleist golf balls.
During tournament rounds, if he makes a bogey, he’ll put a new Pro V1 in play. He made just four bogeys (and 17 birdies) over the four days at Pebble Beach – one on Thursday, one on Saturday, two on Sunday. For the record, that’s a total of eight golf balls, one legendary par on the 71st hole, and one major championship.
About four months earlier, during the week of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, Fordie Pitts and Jeff Beyers, Titleist’s R&D golf ball consultants on the PGA Tour, bumped into Woodland in a parking lot outside a restaurant in La Jolla. At the time, Woodland was playing a competitive golf ball but had been considering a change.
“We just chatted for a few minutes,” Pitts said. “Gary told us that he had hit the Pro V1 model Charley Hoffman was playing, and that he really liked it. Even though he’s high speed, he’s always wanted some spin in his ball. He’s not just looking to bomb it all the time, he wants to have that control on his irons and shots around the green.”
In December of 2018, Woodland teamed with Hoffman in the QBE Shootout, the PGA Tour’s unofficial two-person team event in Naples, Fla. It was during the second round that Woodland first played his partner’s Pro V1 during the modified alternate shot format. There was something about it he really liked. Woodland and Hoffman combined to shoot 64 and the day’s best score by two shots.
The following April, during an early-week practice session at The Masters, Woodland’s coach Pete Cowen stood on the range at Augusta National watching his student’s ball flight. “You just don’t have enough spin,” he told Woodland.
“I got lucky that week because of the weather and everything was a little softer,” said Woodland, who finished T-32 at Augusta. “At Pebble Beach, when the greens firmed up, I needed to have more spin – and fortunately I had it.”
At the Wells Fargo Championship, his first post-Masters appearance, Woodland stepped to the first tee at Quail Hollow with a Pro V1 in his hand. While he got sick and had to withdraw after the third round, Woodland came back the next week at the PGA Championship, and again put Pro V1 in play. He finished T-8 after shooting Sunday’s best round (2-under 68) at Bethpage Black.
“I’d played the ball with Charley (Hoffman), so I was familiar with it a little bit, but I was surprised when I switched to it I got more spin but I didn’t lose any speed,” Woodland said. “I’m a long hitter so I’m not looking for any distance, but I’m not really looking to give up any yards either. With this ball I actually picked up a little speed – I was shocked. I literally tested for about an hour and it was a very easy switch. It went right in the bag.”
Four Sundays later, Woodland found himself on the tee at Pebble Beach’s treacherous 220-yard par-3 17th hole with a two-shot lead in the U.S. Open. He hit 5-iron to the right side of the iconic hourglass-shaped green. The pin was on the far left. Officially, Woodland was 91 feet and 3 inches from the hole, to say nothing of the not-so-great angle and the terrain in between. “If I putted it, I don’t think I could have got within 20 feet,” he said.
So he chipped it – well, clipped it. “Perfectly,” as Woodland describes it.
“That shot right there – it shows exactly why I needed to switch,” he said. “The ball I was playing before was a little firmer and didn’t give me enough spin. On that shot, the (Pro V1) came off low ¬– it clipped perfectly – landed on a firm surface on a downhill with enough spin to stay short.”
The ball came to rest 2 feet, 2 inches from the cup. He tapped in.
“It validated everything that I needed to see,” he said.
On Pebble’s famed par-5 18th, Woodland reached the green with three easy swings – iron, iron, wedge – before draining a 30-footer for birdie to punctuate the three-shot victory and his first major title.
After the round, Woodland told reporters that it was his second shot to the par-5 14th – where most players were laying up – which gave him the confidence to execute the shot on 17. After much deliberation, he chose 3-wood. His Pro V1 sailed 265 yards, clearing a front greenside bunker and settling in the rough just left of the green. He got up and down for the crucial birdie that extended his lead to two with four holes to play.
“There’s just no surprises (with Pro V1), and that’s what you want. You want to look up, and the golf ball comes out exactly where you’re looking every time. And the window it comes out is so consistent. Plus the durability. I switch balls when I make bogeysboge. So I only took four balls out of play (at the U.S. Open). I played the same ball a lot, which was nice. But the big deal is consistency and no surprises. And I didn’t have any of those.”