Column: A US Open, and a summer of stress for Gary Woodland

FILE - In this Tuesday, July 16, 2019 file photo, Gary Woodland of the United States smiles as he listens to a question from the media during a press conference ahead of the start of the British Open golf at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. Woodland had a summer of stress until his wife gave birth to twin girls last week. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

Column: Double the joy for Gary Woodland with US Open trophy and birth of his twin daughters

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Gary Woodland made sure plans were in place for him to leave tournaments before he even arrived.

And when he did show up, just the sight of officials in a golf cart made him nervous. Most of the time, they were on their way to administer a ruling. Woodland always assumed they were coming to tell him his wife had gone into labor.

It was like that for the last six weeks.

So the smile that never left him Tuesday at Liberty National Golf Club had nothing to do with the $15 million prize at stake as the FedEx Cup playoffs begin. It was all about his twin daughters Maddox and Lennox born Thursday, making his best year in golf the greatest year of his life.

"I feel 100 pounds lighter," Woodland said as he walked off the course during a weather delay in a practice round Tuesday for The Northern Trust. "Obviously, I had a huge win and that was great. But it's been stressful every week because every cart I see ... 'Are they coming to get me? Is Gabby going into labor?' The last month has been stressful for both of us."

That huge win was the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, which was filled with plenty of tense moments.

Woodland handled those with ease, no small task with two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka chasing him all the way to the finish line. He drilled a 3-wood from 263 yards onto the 14th green to set up a pivotal birdie, and then turned to another high-risk shot by using a 64-degree wedge to pitch the ball off one end of the green to a pin some 90 feet away on No. 17, a shot that will take its place in U.S. Open lore.

That still didn't equip him for six weeks of nerves that followed.

"At Pebble, I felt in control. The last month, I've had no control," Woodland said. "That was the hardest part for Gabby and I, the uncertainty."

It was at the Dell Match Play two years ago when Woodland learned that one of the twins his wife Gabby was carrying had died. Their son, Jax, was born at 30 weeks and spent six weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit.

The following April, she had a miscarriage.

So imagine the surprise — and trepidation — when they learned in January that she was pregnant with twins.

"One, they told us she couldn't get pregnant," Woodland said. "Two, they didn't think there was any chance she'd make it to 36 weeks. That was almost as much a miracle as her getting pregnant."

Her last trip was to the PGA Championship at Bethpage, where she was sick and never made it out to the golf course. She stayed up late at home in Florida to watch Woodland hold off Koepka at Pebble Beach, and she saw that rare burst of emotion when he made a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th to win by three.

With the silver trophy at his side that evening, Woodland thought about the next two months and said life was about to get real.

The U.S. Open, his greatest achievement in golf, didn't feel real at all.

Woodland went home to Florida, and soon thereafter brought his family to Kansas, where Jax had been born. He went to Topeka, Kansas, so his hometown could celebrate his U.S. Open victory with a block party. Gabby was in the hospital that day and couldn't make it.

"It was awesome to win," Woodland said, "but I haven't really enjoyed it."

That was a time to wait and to hope. Woodland anticipated the twins being born prematurely and having to spend a month or two in the neonatal intensive care. He tried to keep playing, and golf never felt so hard. He missed the cut in Detroit. He missed the cut in the British Open. There was no cut at the FedEx St. Jude Invitational, where Woodland failed to break par in any round and tied for 55th.

"Detroit, I shouldn't have played. I wasn't ready to go and I got into bad habits," Woodland said. "The British, and even Memphis, it was like I wasn't there."

He had a plane ready to go in Memphis that would have taken him the just over an hour to get to the hospital in Kansas. Woodland saw plenty of carts at that week on the golf course and held his breath as they drove past. No news was good news.

The best news was four days after he got home. The twins were born Thursday, 15 seconds apart. His wife was released from the hospital on Sunday. If all goes well, the twins will be ready to come home by the end of the week.

Woodland spent five hours on the range with Pete Cowen when he arrived at Liberty National — the first time in more than a month that he didn't make arrangements for a quick exit — and said Tuesday was the best he has hit the ball since he won the U.S. Open.

He never looked happier.

Woodland has three FedEx Cup events to play, and then he'll be home with his wife, his son, his twins, the U.S. Open trophy, everything he could want.

"I can enjoy it now," he said of his major victory. "I think it will hit me more after I get home from East Lake, not having to think about the stress and everything. I'm excited to play these three weeks. I'm excited to have three kids at home."

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