Golf

Gary Woodland achieves Father's Day dream with U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach

Gary Woodland achieves Father's Day dream with U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH -- When Gary Woodland awoke Sunday morning holding the 54-hole lead at the 2019 U.S. Open, he did what any other father would when he's away from his family on Father's Day: FaceTime with his wife and kid. 

Then, he received a message from his swing coach Pete Cowen. 

Every man dies, but not every man lives, and you live for this moment.

Leading a pack of major champions to begin the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach would be enough to rattle anyone's nerves. One look at the leaderboard to start the day and it would be easy to envision Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy or Justin Rose surpassing Woodland as he tried to win his first major championship. 

But Woodland preached the belief in himself all week. And each time it looked like he was about to give in to the pressure, he steadied himself. 

On Saturday, there was the chip-in for par at No. 12 and the 42-foot par putt at No. 14. Again, on Sunday, with Koepka charging up the leaderboard for a chance to make history by winning his third straight U.S. Open, Woodland didn't buckle. 

After a par on No. 1, he birdied the second to put some distance between himself and the hard-charging Koepka. As the day turned to twilight and the waves painted the rocks along the Pacific Coast, Woodland maintained his lead and his composure.

But Koepka and Rose would not give him the trophy.

After a bogey on No. 12, Woodland held just a one-shot lead over Koepka.

It would be a message from another special person that would get Woodland home. 

Back in January at the Waste Management Open, a video of Woodland and Special Olympian Amy Bockerstette playing the famed 16th hole went viral. 

Gary and Amy have remained in touch and have become good friends. She tweeted words of encouragement to him Saturday night and their relationship has become a special one for Woodland. 

"The only thing you can control, and I said this yesterday, the only thing I can control today is my attitude," Woodland said when asked what he's learned from Amy. "My caddie told me today when I got done that it was the best he's ever seen my attitude all week. I just try to control that because that's really all you can control. You know, Amy's attitude is phenomenal. That's something I want to teach my kids that positive energy is contagious. Life's not always going to be bells and whistles, there's going to be some bad things that happen in your life. There's going to be a lot of ups and downs but the one thing you can control is your attitude and if you do that, in the end, good things will happen. 

"Amy told me a million times when we were on that hole, 'I got this. I got this.' I told myself that a million times today. I got this."

Still leading by one shot when he stepped on the 14th tee, Woodland hammered a drive down the left side of the fairway. Instead of electing to play it safe on the Par 5, Woodland took out his 3-wood and hit his second shot to the back left of the green, giving him an easy two-putt for birdie and a two-stroke lead. 

While Rose faded down the stretch, Koepka would not. Leading by two shots with two to play and with Koepka playing the Par-5 18th, Woodland lost his tee shot on the Par-3 17th to the right. His tee shot landed at the edge of the green, some 90 feet from the hole, giving Woodland only one option to get up-and-down for what would be a championship-winning par. 

Woodland took out his 64-degree wedge, and clipped the back of the ball just perfectly. The ball landed in the middle of the green, bounced twice and rolled to within three feet of the pin. 

He laid back off the tee on 18, soaking in the walk to his coronation as a major champion. His third shot on the Par-5 18th landed 30 feet from the hole. Two putts were all that was left to major championship glory, but Woodland, as he did all week, found the bottom of the cup with one final stroke of his putter, punctuating an impressive performance at one of golf's hallowed lands. 

Two years ago, Gary and his wife Gabby were expecting twins but lost one of the children during pregnancy. Their son, Jaxson, was born prematurely but is healthy and will celebrate his second birthday next week. They are expecting twin girls in August. 

On Father's Day, Gary Woodland became a U.S. Open champion. He thought of his wife and son back home. Of his unborn daugthers. He gave his own father, the man who never let him win growing up, a huge bear hug after he secured a lifelong dream that he hopes one day his son will see. 

"Like I said, I wouldn't be here without my dad," Woodland said. "And I probably didn't realize how special it all was until I became a father. And obviously we had our struggles, and it's been documented, the losses that we've suffered. We lost a couple last year, as well. And it was tough. We thought we were done, and the identical twin girls were a surprise.

"Being a father now puts life in perspective. My whole life it's all been about trying to win. And now I'm trying to make a better life for my son than I've had. It's been a process. But today is so special from that standpoint that being a father and hopefully some day he can even see this and realize that anything is possible." 

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Then, Woodland thought of Amy and her family. As he walked to the media center he FaceTimed her to celebrate his win. Her words of encouragement still hanging over his victory. 

"You got this."

Three minor league hitters can help A's regardless of trade deadline moves

Three minor league hitters can help A's regardless of trade deadline moves

On Monday, we detailed three minor league pitchers who could help solidify the A's starting rotation and bullpen for the stretch run. Now we want to focus on position players.

While it's a less significant group, Oakland does feature three talented minor-league infielders who are just about ready to make an impact at the major league level:

Jorge Mateo

The A's No. 4 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, is having a phenomenal season at Triple-A Las Vegas. Mateo, 24, is slashing .302/.339/.537 with 17 home runs, 25 doubles, 13 triples, 72 RBI, and 20 stolen bases.

Mateo has spent the majority of the year at shortstop but has also started 14 games at second base. Of course, Marcus Semien owns the A's shortstop position, but Mateo might get an opportunity at second base come September, especially if Jurickson Profar and Franklin Barreto continue to struggle.

At the very least, Mateo should serve as a valuable pinch-runner. His speed has always been his best attribute, with MLB Pipeline ranking it as a perfect 80 on the 20-80 scale. That will definitely come in handy during the final month of the season.

Sheldon Neuse

Oakland's ninth-ranked prospect is also having a terrific season in Las Vegas. Neuse, 24, is slashing .321/.387/.543 with 19 home runs, 27 doubles, and 84 RBI. His biggest problem is the position he plays -- third base happens to be occupied in Oakland for the next several years.
 
However, Neuse has moved around the infield a bit this season, starting six games at shortstop and three at second base. He's even played three games in left field. That type of versatility will help Neuse's chances of getting playing time at the big-league level this year, particularly at second base.

Even if Neuse doesn't get many starts, he could provide the A's with a dangerous power bat off the bench in late-inning situations.

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Sean Murphy

The A's No. 3 prospect is undoubtedly the team's catcher of the future. Murphy is ranked as the fourth-best catcher prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline.

The 24-year-old has missed the majority of the season with a knee injury, but returned to the Las Vegas Aviators last week and went 6-for-12 with four home runs and nine RBI in his first three games back. Overall, Murphy is slashing .349/.422/.640 with six homers and 18 RBI in 22 games this year in Triple-A.

Incredibly, Murphy's hitting is not even his best attribute. His defense is MLB-ready and would rank above average already. Now that his bat is coming alive too, he has a chance to be one of the best catchers in the game.

Murphy will almost certainly take over the A's starting catcher job next season, but he has a chance to make an early impact in September this year as well, especially if Josh Phegley and Chris Herrmann falter.

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Brooks Koepka's bid for U.S. Open history comes up short at Pebble Beach

Brooks Koepka's bid for U.S. Open history comes up short at Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH -- It was like a scene from an old horror movie. The giant beast rises from the water, prepared to destroy everything in his path. Nothing can stop it.

Such was the scene at Pebble Beach on Sunday. With the late tee times going off, golf's Godzilla emerged on the first tee clad in a blue Nike pullover, a wad of chewing tobacco packed in his lip. 

There Brooks Koepka stood, ready to add Pebble Beach to a list of courses he's eviscerated en route to a major championship. A list that includes Shinnecock Hills, Bethpage Black, Bellerive and Erin Hills. 

Unfazed by the pressure of being four shots back on a U.S. Open Sunday. Unbothered by the enormity of the task of winning three straight U.S. Opens. Koepka stuck his tee in the ground on the first tee, and his unstoppable rampage began. 

He birdied No.1. Then, after losing his tee shot into the hospitality area on No. 2, it appeared Godzilla had met a roadblock.

Once again, Koepka didn't flinch. 

His recovery shot found the deep rough on the lip of the bunker that splits the second hole. But Koepka muscled his third shot out of the spinach to within five feet of the hole. A ho-hum par. 

The beast marched on. 

Birdies at three, four and five brought Koepka to 11-under for the tournament, on the precipice of overtaking leader Gary Woodland. History was within his grasp.

But eventually, someone discovers a way to slay the beast. Sometimes he stops himself. 

After paring six and seven, Koepka bogeyed No. 8. Godzilla can bleed. 

Meanwhile, Woodland kept grinding out pars, never giving Koepka an opening. The four-time major winner would have to make a move on the back nine in order to complete his destruction of another U.S. Open field.

After a birdie at 11, Koepka bogeyed 12 but remained only one shot back of Woodland. 

Koepka struck the ball beautifully all week, but he couldn't get the putts to fall. As he parred his way through the back nine, Godzilla started to stumble, and on 18, when his putt to get to 11-under darted in front of the hole, he fell back into the Pacific Ocean.

His quest for three straight U.S. Opens would come up three strokes shy of Woodland, who birdied 18 to finish at 13 under. Koepka became the first golfer in history to shoot four rounds in the 60s in a U.S. Open and not take home the trophy.

"It doesn't sting," Koepka said after the round. "I played great. Nothing I could do. I gave it my all. I give it my all every time and sometimes, like this week -- it happened at Augusta -- it's not meant to be. I played great. I hit every shot that I wanted to. And sometimes no matter how good your good is it isn't there."

Koepka has become the big-game hunter over the past two years. Arriving at major championships with an icy demeanor and the lone goal of eviscerating the field with his brute strength and unwavering will.

Sometimes the monster gets beat. Woodland was triumphant Sunday, doing what few have been able to do recently and only he has been able to do in the last three U.S. Opens: beat Brooks. 

[RELATED: Woodland achieves Father's Day dream with U.S. Open win]

The U.S. Open leaves Pebble Beach with Koepka's name half carved into the lone tree in the 18th fairway. He was a few rolls of his putter from U.S. Open history.

From achieving it at this iconic venue, where the Pacific Ocean kisses the rocks and time melts away as quickly as the water from the shoreline of Stillwater Cove. 

"Yeah, it's cool. It's an awesome theater," Koepka said of Pebble Beach. "Anytime that you can play in a place that's as beautiful as this, it's pretty neat. You look out to the left and you've got the Pacific and you see all the fans on the right, it's a unique place. All the history behind it and to play a major championship here is quite special. Even you play the AT&T here it's a cool feeling. And it's one I can't wait to get back to."

Gary Woodland won the day. 

But Brooks Koepka, like Godzilla, is bound to return.