Two shots by U.S. Open champion that teach us a lot

If golf was like competitive diving and had degrees of difficulty on every shot, two of Gary Woodland’s challenges on the back nine Sunday would have been around 9.9 on a scale of 10.

He nailed both of them, and that’s why he’s the U.S. Open champion.

The first was on the par-5 14th hole at Pebble Beach. If you’ve been lucky enough to play Pebble or even have just walked it, you know the difficulty of any approach shot to that green. It’s like trying to land a ball on a tabletop that sits behind a huge, yawning bunker.  

Anything left is dead.

Anything long is dead.

Anything to the right spins off the green or leaves you with a scary putt up the hill.

Hitting out of the bunker is no bargain, either. You can barely see the pin.

For most of us, just getting a wedge onto the putting surface is extremely daunting. Woodland did it with a 3-wood from 263 yards.

I don’t know many amateurs who would even attempt that shot from a normal human being’s 3-wood range. It wouldn’t be smart. The chances of pulling it off are about 1%, and that’s on a good day.

I’ve got to wonder how many pros could execute that shot, for that matter. That’s a long way to hit a perfect 3-wood. I was sure Woodland was about to make the classic blunder that would propel Brooks Koepka to his third straight U.S. Open title.

That was the classic example of “There are the pros, and then there’s the rest of us.” Every time I watch a pro tournament, especially a major on a gruesomely difficult layout, I gain a new appreciation for what they can do out there.

But then was a shot where length wasn’t a factor – Woodland’s chip off the putting surface on No. 17.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to chip off a green because putting wasn’t a viable option, and I don’t need any hands to count the number of times it turned out well. I’m 0-fer.

There’s something about that shot that messes with your mind. You don’t want to take a divot out of the green, so you’re a little hesitant about properly getting your club down to the bottom of the ball. But you also don’t want to chunk it, which frequently happens on closely manicured fairways.

No problem for Woodland. He clipped it just right and got his ball to check up right next to the pin. Easy par.

There’s no doubt that about 99% of the viewing audience thought he was going to make bogey and Koepka was going to get up and down for birdie on No. 18 to pull into a tie. When Woodland came up with his neat little chip and Koepka had to settle for par, the tournament was essentially over.

It wasn’t the most exciting finish Sunday. I kept waiting for Koepka to pull even and make it a neck-and-neck race.

But even without that much drama on the scoreboard, we still can take something away from the skill required to pull off those two shots.

Sure, good golf often is about playing smart and minimizing the damage, but it’s also about having the ability to hit a miracle shot and the precision to handle a challenging chip.

Consider the degrees of difficulty that confront you as you dive into your next round of golf, and then rate how you did. But here’s the great thing about our great game: You’re your own judge.

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