The great thing about the U.S. Open is that it’s, well, open. It’s the ultimate meritocracy. If you’re good enough, you can compete.
You didn’t play high-level college golf? Doesn’t matter. You didn’t play competitive golf at any level? That doesn’t matter, either. The only thing that does matter is can you shoot the scores?
Pretty straightforward, right?
The final qualifiers are this weekend but it’s the Monday regional in Ohio that’s drawing more interest than normal. That’s where former NFL running back Danny Woodhead will try to buck the odds once again.
Gunning for Brookline
If you follow the NFL at all, you probably remember Woodhead. The 5’8” running back out of Division II Chadron State in Nebraska carved out the unlikeliest career, highlighted by three seasons with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
“I’ve been playing golf since I was young,” Woodhead tells MyGolfSpy. “But once I retired (in 2017) I was like, let’s get serious. It’s a challenge for me. I wanted to see how good I could get.”
Woodhead says he was playing to a 5 handicap when he retired. Since then he’s worked on his game and has gotten as low as a +3.7.
“I’ve heard people say that I can’t do things for so long,” he says. “I like it when people question me. People said it would be hard to get to scratch. I never said it was going to be easy. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean I’m going to say, ‘I guess I can’t.’”
The Sub 70 Connection
That Woodhead plays Sub 70 irons and wedges shouldn’t surprise anyone. Underdogs, after all, share considerable DNA. Sub 70 owner Jason Hiland noticed Woodhead’s golf journey on Instagram, recognized him as a kindred spirit and reached out. He made Woodhead some clubs and the pair struck up a friendship.
“He’s an amazing dude,” says Woodhead. “If I never played Sub 70 again, we’d still be friends. There are no strings attached. I love the clubs and I did ask him if he wanted to put me on his website as a brand ambassador. He said, ‘Nah, we’re good.’
“I want it to be a friendship because, at the end of the day, relationships are all that matter in life.”
Woodhead will be bringing Sub 70 TAIII irons and JB and 286 wedges to Ohio.
“What’s awesome about our friendship is Jason is like, ‘Hey, if there’s a better club, play what’s best for you. Don’t play my stuff because we’re friends.’ I’ve always appreciated that.”
Woodhead learned to play with some hand-me-down Walter Hagen blades and loves Sub 70’s minimalist profile.
“The TAIII irons give me the look I want,” he says. “I’ve played Titleist T100s and Callaway TCBs but they just didn’t work for me.”
Prepping for the Qualifier
Woodhead advanced to Monday’s qualifier after shooting an even-par 71 at the local qualifier in Omaha.
“My business partner caddied for me and he’s maybe the worst golfer in the world,” he laughs. “But he just hung out with me and we laughed together. I honestly felt I was just going for a stroll.”
Monday’s 36-hole qualifier will be held at the Springfield Country Club. Woodhead has been playing a few practice rounds with a club member to glean some local knowledge but he’s not one to rely on his caddie for much help.
“I don’t want this to come across as arrogant but I had to go through 10 training camps,” says Woodhead. “I had to go through 10 seasons blocking 250-pound middle linebackers. I don’t need someone to keep me in it mentally. I just need someone to hang out with me.”
And that someone will be Woodhead’s younger brother Joel.
“We’ve played together I don’t know how many times,” he says. “He knows my game and he knows my strengths. I just need a best friend to hang out with me. I’m going to go out there and play to the best of my ability and hopefully keep the ball in front of me and not do anything terribly dumb.”
Eyes On New England
Woodhead was a fan favorite during his time with the Patriots and you’ll still see the occasional No. 39 jersey at Gillette Stadium. He scored a touchdown in his first game and scored another in the Super Bowl. And while Woodhead is very much his own man, he will carry a few lessons learned from Bill Belichick with him in Ohio.
“This may sound stupid but the school of thought during my Belichick era was, ‘Do your job,” he says. “Do it one step at a time and don’t get too far in front of yourself. I don’t want to think of a score or anything. I just want to hit a good shot and go from there.”
And as much as he’d love to make the field at Brookline, he does keep it all in perspective.
“I want to qualify for the U.S. Open but, more than anything, I hope anyone I’ve ever run into in my entire life can say, ‘You know what, Danny Woodhead is a really good guy. He was there when I needed him, and he cares about me.’
“If stuff like that is said about me, I’ll be much happier about that than any U.S. Open or any Super Bowl because that’s the most important thing.”
The odds are against Woodhead. But the odds of an undersized, Division II running back from Chadron State carving out a 10-year NFL career weren’t all that great, either. And with all the angst and anger surrounding LIV, DJ, Norman and Phil, it’s refreshing to remember why a lot of us play golf.
“This isn’t a business thing for me, man,” says Woodhead. “I’m chasing something that I love.”
Seriously, how can you not root for the guy?
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Carl10 months ago
Great story. Let us know how he does in the qualifier.