DORAL, Fla. – Gary Woodland is a professional golfer, but still loves basketball.
Woodland, a former Shawnee Heights standout and KU grad, is still an avid Jayhawk fan and has been back to Lawrence for about six games this year.
“I’d love to shoot around with the guys,” said Woodland, who sports a big KU logo on his Callaway golf bag. “I love being around basketball. It’s the greatest sport in the world I think.”
Woodland won two state basketball titles while at Shawnee Heights and played basketball at Washburn for one season. He is considered one of the most athletic players on the PGA Tour and he believes he’s the best basketball player.
“I can’t imagine anybody even hanging a little bit,” Woodland said. “There’s some guys that are athletic that can move, but playing and dunking are two different things so I don’t think there’s anybody that can even hang.”
Woodland will be in Bay Hill this weekend, near his Orlando home, playing in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but will be paying attention to how the Jayhawks are doing in their first round game against Eastern Kentucky on Friday. Kansas (25-9) is the No. 2 seed in the South Region.
“They’re good, they’re young,” Woodland said. “I think if Naadir Tharpe plays well, I don’t know if anybody can beat us. I really think they’re that good. They just need someone to kind of run that team and keep those freshmen under control. They’re so young and they make a lot of mistakes, but if Naadir runs the team like he thinks he can, they’re pretty tough to beat.”
In addition to Tharpe, KU will also be counting on star freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to play well.
“Wiggins finally played like he’s supposed to play and hopefully they can get Embiid back and they’ll be pretty good,” Woodland said.
Woodland played basketball at Washburn (2002-03) before transferring to Kansas to play golf. While in Lawrence, he developed relationships with a number of basketball players including Cole Aldrich, Mario Chalmers, and Wayne Simien.
“I talk to Cole quite a bit, Cole and I are still pretty good buddies,” Woodland said. “I see Mario every once in a while when he gets back home. Wayne Simien, I see him when I go back. I follow KU really hard and then I follow the guys that played at KU. I follow (Paul) Pierce, (Kirk) Hinrich, (Nick) Collison, the Morris twins (Marcus and Markeiff), (Thomas) Robinson, (Ben) McLemore, I follow all of those guys. I don’t pay too much attention to the NBA, but I follow what those guys are doing.”
Woodland is hoping to be able to watch Wiggins on a regular basis if the highly-regarded NBA Draft prospect is selected by the Orlando Magic.
“Hopefully Wigs comes down to Orlando so I can watch him play,” Woodland said.
Woodland was an all-state basketball player at Shawnee Heights winning a state title as a sophomore in 2000 and as a senior in 2002. The Thunderbirds finished fourth his junior year.
“It was the greatest time ever,” Woodland said. “I have nothing but fond memories of playing there. I miss it. Obviously we had a good run there and I still have a lot of good friends that I still talk to from those teams. My parents still live right down the road. I haven’t been back to a game, but I need to get back to a game. Hopefully next year. It was the best time, I loved it.”
As a 6-foot-1 senior guard at Shawnee Heights, Woodland averaged 18.1 points a game and was named Topeka co-city player of the year while guiding the Thunderbirds to a 5A state championship with a 20-5 record.
“I was solid, I wasn’t athletic as a lot of those guys and wasn’t as big, but I was pretty smart, I worked really hard at it and that’s carried over to where I’m at today,” Woodland said. “I wasn’t as good as everybody else, but I found a way. It’s been a struggle out here because I’m actually more athletic than everybody out here so I have to make sure I continue to work hard and build on what I did when I was playing basketball.”
He played for Craig Cox, who is the current coach at Seaman.
“Coach Cox was great,” Woodland said. “We’re still pretty good friends, I see him when I get home. He’s one of the best high school coaches I’ve seen. He knows basketball. He was unbelievable at game-planning and strategy. There was a lot of games that we shouldn’t have won, but we won by the way we played and that contributed all to him.”
Cox believes Woodland’s strong work ethic helped him on the court and on the course.
“Gary was a great shooter, and he had the desire and determination to be the best,” Cox said. “The thing that impressed me the most about Gary was that he would call me and ask if he could get in the gym to work on his shooting to make sure he stayed sharp. Gary’s work ethic made him successful in basketball and golf.”
Woodland came up big in the state championship game in his senior year scoring a game-high 26 points, which including making 14 of 15 free throws in a 66-52 win over McPherson. Woodland was the star, but the T-Birds also got solid contributions from the rest of the starters: Chris Torrez, John Meissner, Marcus Miller, and Anthony Giordono
“The main deal was that we played together,” Woodland said. “We didn’t have the most talented team every time we stepped on the floor, but we stuck to our game plan, played together, and we beat a lot of teams we shouldn’t have beat. No better example was my sophomore year when we beat Schlagle, who was 20-something-and-0, Miege who had lost one game, and we were the seventh seed and ended up finding a way to win.”
He earned a basketball scholarship to play at Washburn where he averaged 6.0 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in 32 games, making four starts as a key reserve on a 26-6 team.
“More than anything, I miss those guys,” Woodland said. “Being out here in an individual sports, it’s a little tough. The locker room and you miss traveling with the guys, hanging out with the guys, and we had a great team there, but we ended up getting upset by Northeastn Oklahoma that ended up winning it all, but it was a just a carryover. It felt like you were just one of the guys and it was awesome.”
He lists playing an exhibition game at Kansas as one of his most memorable sports moments.
“There’s no place better,” Woodland said. “That was one of the coolest moments I’ve ever had playing in that building and being able to be around that place. Now I go back and they praise me. When I was there, they booed the heck out of me. There’s no place like Allen Fieldhouse.”
Woodland, 29, is currently ranked 18th in the FedExCup standings and has three top 10 finishes in 10 events this year earning $1,357,643.
“It’s going well,” Woodland said. “I got some great people around me right now. Obviously I have a good caddy in the bag, some good people mentoring me right now. My game is good and I’m healthy which is a huge key.”
As a basketball player, Woodland was an emotional, fiery player, which is something he’s working on taking to the course.
“I’ve bottled it in a little bit and that’s something I’m trying to work on,” Woodland said. “I’m trying to let a little bit more out. I was very emotional in basketball. I kind of like to get in the heat of the battle and out here I’m a little bit more reserved and I need to let a little bit more of that out and hopefully relax a little bit.”
He’s looking for a strong showing this weekend as he gets geared up for The Masters, April 10-13.
“That’s the goal, to be clicking on all cylinders by then,” Woodland said. “I’m getting close.”