Willie Wood’s journeyman career
deserved another victory speech
Chris Condon/PGA ToUr
It was 8 p.m. when Willie Wood finally made it back to the locker room at En-Joie CC on Aug. 19. The last man standing at a professional golf tournament is always the last man out of the locker room, and the Dick’s Sporting
Goods Open was no exception.
“Hey Willie,” the attendant said to Wood as he headed for
his locker. “Your cell phone’s been going crazy.”
Wood smiled. He figured to hear from a few people after
he beat Michael Allen in a playoff 90 minutes earlier to win
for the second time in 29 years on the PGA, Web.com and
Champions tours. A lot of memories and a lot of names had
flooded his mind during his acceptance speech.
“I thought about so many people who had been there for
me along the way,” he said a few days after his
victory in upstate New York. “Family, friends, other
players. It all came in a rush. I was kind of a mess.”
He grabbed his cell phone from the open locker to
see his mailbox was full, but it was the texts that made
him pull up in surprise. “There were 191 of them,” he
said. “People I hadn’t heard from for years. Fred
Couples sent one. Heck, my ex-wife sent one. I sat down
for a minute to answer a few and lost ground. It seemed
Wood won in dramatic fashion, rolling in a 35-foot
putt on the 18th hole to tie Allen before winning on the
first playoff hole. He won after having to play in a
Monday qualifier just to get into the tournament
because he wasn’t a fully exempt Champions Tour
player. None of that begins to describe the long road
taken to that moment when his acceptance speech
turned into a gusher of spilled emotions.
The win came 23 years after his first wife, Holly,
lost her battle with cancer at age 26. She left behind
two boys—William and Kelby, who were 2 and 1 at
the time—and a husband who has often relied on the
kindness of friends without ever stopping to feel
sorry for himself.
“I have never played the ‘Why me?’ game,” said Wood,
who continued his solid play with a third-place finish at
the Boeing Classic Aug. 25. “Anyone who reaches 50 has been
through some things. But I’ve always tried to focus on all the
good things that have happened to me. I learned a very hard
lesson: Never take time with the people you love for granted.
I was so lucky to have the support I had back then—and the
support I’ve had since then.”
William is now in medical school at Oklahoma; Kelby is
getting a master’s in film at UCLA. Wood’s youngest son
(from his second marriage) Hayden is the golfer. He is a
high school junior being recruited by all the college powers,
including dad’s alma mater Oklahoma State.
A number of players and their wives put together a
college fund for the two older boys after Holly’s death, and
Wood updates them periodically on what that money has
allowed his boys to do educationally.
Life on the course was often an escape for Wood, but it
has never been easy there either. He won once on the PGA
Tour (1996) but from 2000 on had spent much of his time
on what was then the Nationwide Tour until he turned 50
in 2010. “The thing about the Nationwide is that
no one wants to be there,” he said. “Everyone’s
trying to get out. I was trying to do it against guys
half my age who hit it about twice as far.
“The Champions Tour was another chance.
This year had been frustrating for a while: I twice
double-bogeyed my last hole in qualifiers to miss
making fields by a shot. … I managed to get into the
[Senior] PGA and finish tied for 12th, and since then I’ve
been going in the right direction.”
He reached Nirvana at En-Joie. A $270,000 first-place
check and fully exempt status on the tour. “No more
qualifiers,” he said with a deep sigh of relief.
win at the Dick’s
Open means no
qualifiers to play
a full Champions