This year’s U.S. Open field is filled with plenty of Bulldogs (University of Georgia), Cowboys (Oklahoma State), Sun Devils (Arizona State), Yellow Jackets (Georgia Tech), Longhorns (Texas), Commodores (Vanderbilt), Gators (Florida), Seminoles (Florida State), Cardinal (Stanford) and Crimson Tide (Alabama). Basically, the blue blood programs of men’s college golf.
But a couple of Jayhawks are crashing the party.
Reigning U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland is a PGA Tour regular, but he rarely competes against fellow University of Kansas alums. The school is best known for producing NBA stars, not golf professionals. This week at Winged Foot Golf Club, however, Woodland has KU company. Ryan Vermeer, a seven-time winner and two-time All-American (1999 and 2000) for the Jayhawks, got into the all-exempt field by virtue of being one of the top three points leaders in the 2019 PGA Professional Player of the Year standings.
“It's awesome,” said Woodland of the 42-year-old Vermeer, a native of Spencer, Iowa, who is now the director of instruction at the Happy Valley Club in Omaha, Neb. “He's probably the best college player to ever play at Kansas career-wise, and he's played four of the last five PGA Championships. So we've played a lot of practice rounds together. When I was in school, he turned professional. He was still living in town. So I played with him a bunch back in the day.”
Vermeer never matched his college success in the pro ranks (he finished 163rd on the 2001 Web.com Tour money list in his only full season), while the lightly recruited Woodland, a four-time winner in his three seasons at KU, has blossomed into one of the game’s best. All 13 of Vermeer’s professional wins have come since he became a club professional, including four Nebraska PGA titles, three Nebraska Match Plays, and the 2018 PGA Professional Championship.
“It's great to have a former Jayhawk out here talking a little about how our football team is struggling and hopefully our basketball team is great again,” said Woodland, who played a practice round with Vermeer on Monday. “His game is great. I think for him, it's believing he can play out here. He's obviously dominated the PGA section stuff, Player of the Year a year ago.”
Too bad there won’t be any fans on-site to serenade them with a rendition of "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk."