TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas native Gary Woodland came back home to Topeka on Tuesday, still clutching his U.S. Open Championship trophy.
The City of Topeka threw him a block party to celebrate his major victory.
Speaking before a crowd of at least 1,000, Woodland said he was more nervous on the stage than when he was on the 18th green at Pebble Beach.
Woodland described a whirlwind of events since earning his first major. He’s received advice from Tiger Woods and others on how to handle life’s new demands and congratulatory texts and calls from the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Charles Barkley and Chris Paul.
“When I woke up the next morning and it was on the nightstand, I said ‘OK, it’s real. It’s not a dream,'” Woodland said, looking at the trophy he’ll get to hang on to for the next year.
Tuesday’s block party was a night he never imagined.
“You dream of working hard and trying to be successful, but you don’t dream of what comes with it. You don’t dream of the aftermath,” Woodland said.
Woodland was joined on stage by coaches and administrators from Shawnee Heights High, Washburn University and the University of Kansas. After he graduated from Shawnee Heights, Woodland would first play basketball at Washburn, before transferring to KU to play golf.
Woodland said former Jayhawk Kirk Hinrich reached out to congratulate him after winning the U.S. Open. Woodland credits having to try to guard Hinrich in a game as the moment that convinced him to hang up his sneakers.
As proud as the city is of his achievements on the course, they’re also proud of his character.
The night featured a check presentation to Folds of Honor, an organization Woodland has supported that provides scholarships to family members of fallen military heroes.
He also formed a special connection with an autistic golfer at this year’s Waste Management Open that would carry over to the 2019 U.S. Open.
Woodland said, “The world needs more Amys.” On Tuesday an old coach of Woodland’s at Shawnee Heights said, “the world needs more Garys.”
“To have a positive impact and give back, that’s a huge deal, and when people take notice of that and I can put a smile on people’s faces, that’s huge deal,” Woodland said.
The Topeka native was given the key to the city and a promise they’ll throw him another celebration if he brings back a “Green Jacket” from the Masters.
“I’m proud to come home. I’ll never forget where I came from, and I won’t forget who I am,” Woodland said.