Gary Woodland says he has, without question, the best jumper on the PGA Tour.
As in basketball, not some new-fangled trick golf shot.
Woodland will be in Kapalua next week, playing in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on the Plantation Course, but may be the most unlikely member of the field of winners that becomes final today.
Gary Woodland finished 17th on the PGA Tour money list as well as the final FedEx Cup standings in 2011.
AP file photo
He played basketball at Washburn University in Kansas after helping his high school in Topeka win back-to-back state titles.
A game against a Kansas team ranked No. 1 at the time helped Woodland think that his second high school sport might turn out to be the right track for him professionally.
He transferred to Kansas, won four collegiate tournaments, turned pro in 2007, made the tour in 2009 by going through all three stages of qualifying, injured his shoulder as a rookie, came back on a medical exemption in 2010 but did not make enough money to keep his card and then got it back through Q-School again in 2011.
In March, he won the Transitions Championship with an 11-foot par on the 72nd hole to beat eventual FedEx Cup runner-up Webb Simpson by a stroke.
Like his journey to get there, Woodland's final-nine ride to victory was bumpy - that winning putt produced his only par on the back nine, to go with five birdies and three bogeys.
Woodland finished 17th in tour earnings ($3.44 million) and the FedEx Cup standings in 2011.
"It is starting to sink in," the 27-year-old said via phone this week. "I have had a little time off, some time to sit back and reflect. It has been a great year this year. Obviously, the last couple years before this year were a struggle."
Woodland is scheduled to arrive on Sunday.
"We took a vacation to Maui when I was 12 years old and my dad and I snuck up and played the Plantation Course, so I have actually played it, but that was 15 years ago, so I don't remember it real well," he said. "Obviously when you set out to start the year on the PGA Tour, the goal is to get to Kapalua. That is definitely where everybody wants to start. If you get to Kapalua, you have always done good things."
The Plantation Course's 7,463-yard, par-73 layout and often-windy conditions may fit Woodland's game well. He was fifth on tour last season in driving distance at 310.5 yards, but 137th in driving accuracy at 58.07 percent.
"I grew up in Kansas, where it blows 30 (mph) every day, so I hope it does blow," Woodland said. "The wide fairways and the long golf course definitely benefit me."
Playing basketball for an NCAA Division II school seemed to be Woodland's only sporting option out of high school after his all-state senior season. He averaged 6.0 points per game in his only season at Washburn, 2002-03.
"I had more looks at basketball than I did at golf and I thought I wasn't ready to give up basketball," the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Woodland said.
Then came a 101-66 loss to Kansas in an exhibition game at Phog Allen Field House.
"The first game we played, we were actually ranked second in Division II at the time," he said. "But in my first college basketball game we played the University of Kansas, they were ranked number one in Division I. I could tell really quickly that there were a lot of guys who were bigger, better and faster than me, so it was time for me to find something else if I wanted to play at the next level. Golf was the next thing."
Woodland credits Randy Smith - his coach of six years who also works with Justin Leonard, Ryan Palmer and Harrison Frazar - as being a big part of his success.
"The win really validated to us that we were doing the right things, working the right way," he said. "I know when I play well, I have a chance to win. The win showed that we belong - I always believed it myself, but I think it proved it to everybody else."
Woodland had reached a playoff in the Bob Hope Classic earlier in the year, where he lost to Jhonattan Vegas.
The win two months later got Woodland into the Masters, but his first thoughts about the fruits of victory were centered on the Valley Isle.
"Kapalua was definitely first, I had forgot I even got into the Masters," said Woodland, whose mother, father, sister, brother-in-law, niece and girlfriend are making the trip. "I planned on having (Masters) week off. I was telling people, 'I'm going to Maui.' They were like, 'You're going to Augusta, too.' That was a good bonus, too."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org