The affirmation worked for Woodland. He entered the final round 11-under and finished at 13-under-par 271 to win his first major, beating back-to-back U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka by three shots.
Four months earlier, Woodland had met Bockerstette during a practice round at the Waste Management Phoenix Open through his interest in the Special Olympics. Bockerstette has Down syndrome, but it hasn’t stopped her from living her best life or playing golf for Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix.
Woodland, the defending winner of the tournament, paired with Bockerstette on the par-3 16th, with its huge crowd and stadium atmosphere. Despite hitting her tee shot in the bunker, she insisted on hitting it out. Then she sank the putt for par. All along, Bockerstette kept telling herself, “I’ve got this.”
“I said that a lot today, too,” Woodland said after the win. “She's meant everything for me from a mental standpoint. The world needs more of her in it. Her attitude, her love for life, love for the game and her positive energy is so contagious.”
Bockerstette has continued to influence Woodland since their initial meeting in February. When he fell ill during the Wells Fargo tournament at Charlotte in April, she sent Woodland a get-well video. In May, Bockerstette followed up with a birthday greeting for her favorite golfer.
Woodland has worked on his attitude since transitioning from a college basketball player at Washburn University to a golfer Kansas University after his freshman year. In team sports, Woodland said he used adrenaline to his advantage. As he refined his golf game, Woodland had to find a way to calm down.
“When I first got out here, if I got excited, I couldn't control it,” Woodland said after Saturday’s round. “I didn't know how far the ball was going, got ahead of myself. I've learned to take an extra deep breath and really start controlling everything, and not just the game, controlling the mental side, too.
“I can't control everybody else. I can control my attitude, and I can control my game. And that's what I'm out here to do.”
His caddie, Brennan Little, told Woodland after Sunday’s round, it was “the best he's ever seen my attitude all week.”
And it paid off, even with Koepka, who was striving for a third-straight U.S. Open title, chasing Woodland throughout the final two days. The 35-year-old Topeka native just played his game. He remained calm and confident and never played over his head.
Woodland’s 30-foot birdie putt on 18, which solidified his score at 13-under and topped Tiger Woods’ record of 12-under at Pebble Beach set in the 2000 U.S. Open, appeared effortless.
When asked if his final putt would go as viral as Bockerstette’s at Phoenix, Woodland said, “I doubt it.
“I was more nervous for her putt than I was for my putt, I can tell you that. The bunker shot she hit, too, was amazing. I wanted to get it out of the bunker for her, and she's like, ‘No, I've got this.’”
Woodland made a face-time call to his wife and son Jaxson as soon as he left the scoring area. After the winner’s press conference, his next call was to Amy. "I used your positive energy," Woodland told her.
“Amy's attitude is phenomenal,” Woodland said. “That's something I want to teach my kids, is you have to... positive energy is contagious. And life's not always going to be bells and whistles. There are going to be bad things in your life. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs, but the only thing you can control is your attitude.
“And if you do that, in the end, good things will happen. I said—Amy told me a million times when we were on that hole ‘I've got this, I've got this,’ and I told myself that a million times today—'I've got this!’”
(Gary Woodland celebrates final putt: AP Photo/David J. Phillip)