Bruce Woodall’s first golf memory is of a shot he didn’t make.
He was 7 years old and on the tee box of the par-3 sixth hole at Caswell Pines Golf Club in Yanceyville. He hit a tee shot that went straight toward his target. He watched the ball fly, and he heard the unmistakable sound of a golf ball hitting a flag stick, then he watched the ball drop right next to the hole. The ball spun, and went right to the lip, then stopped. It didn’t go in.
He tapped in for a birdie, having barely missed netting a hole-in-one before he was in the third grade.
Woodall still remembers what his dad told him that day.
“Some people never make a hole-in-one,” Woodall’s dad said. “Hopefully you’ll make one of those one of these days.”
Fourteen years later, Woodall, an Eden native and a Greensboro Day School graduate, is in his senior year at the University of Virginia. Like the shot at Caswell Pines, Woodall’s career has shown him just how thin the line is between good and bad fortunes.
Woodall’s least favorite golf moment involves a basketball hoop.
It was February 2010 and snowing outside. Woodall was with his Virginia golf teammates practicing inside an annex gym. During a few down moments, Woodall picked up whatever sports ball he could find and started dunking on the basketball rim.
Woodall, you should know, is a good basketball player. When he was at Greensboro Day School, he scored 2,152 career points and was an all-state pick. Several colleges recruited Woodall to play basketball, but his mind was made up: he was a golfer.
But on that snowy day in 2010, he went back to his basketball roots.
The 6-foot-1 Woodall picked up a basketball and dunked it, found a volleyball and dunked it, found a lacrosse ball and dunked it. On his last attempt, though, he landed on a rolled-up wrestling mat that had been left behind the basketball goal. His left foot hit the mat, and his body fell to the floor, rolling the ankle. It caused two bone bruises and three partially torn ligaments in his left ankle, and it ended his sophomore season before the spring portion had even begun.
“Probably I was trying to re-channel my glory days,” Woodall says now. “It was the most pain I’d ever been in. When I got home, I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve done something bad.’ It was one of those things where I had to keep a sock in my mouth to keep from yelling.”
Woodall spent the next six months in rehabilitation, and because he’d played in four events the previous fall, he didn’t qualify for a medical redshirt.
Recovery was difficult. Without a strong left ankle, a right-handed golfer like Woodall couldn’t follow through or turn.
“Your golf swing relies in that left side,” Woodall says. “A lot of torque goes around there. You have to put a lot of weight on it. Constantly my body didn’t want to go over there. It didn’t want to clear through.”
Woodall kept working though. And he won the Forest Oaks Invitational in August 2010, about six months after his injury. He struggled the rest of the summer and didn’t really start showing signs of returning to form until this past spring semester.
Then things really started to click.
This summer, he tied for fourth at the Cardinal Amateur, tied for second at the North Carolina Amateur, and tied for sixth at the North Carolina Open. But his biggest accomplishment was qualifying for the U.S. Amateur by winning his sectional in Maryland.
And at the end of August, he traveled to Erin Hills Golf Course in Wisconsin to play in the Amateur. He shot 3-over during stroke play and missed the cut for the match play portion of the tournament. But just being there was enough for Woodall.
“That was the best experience of the summer,” Woodall says. “It was awesome to be out there, around the best amateurs in the world. It felt like a Tour event, with the merchandise tents and the huge scoreboard. I just didn’t make any putts that first day, but it was unlike anything I’ve ever played before.”
With the injuries behind him, and a good summer propelling him, Woodall says he’s looking forward to a productive senior year with the Cavaliers, who are ranked 21st in the Golf World/Nike Division I College Preseason Coaches’ poll.
“I’ve always wanted to be an All-American and an Academic All-American,” Woodall says. “I just want to improve my game and be able to play well. And then next summer, I want to play in those big amateur tournaments again. We’ll see if I’m able to turn pro within a year or two. But there’s no rush.”
No matter what he does in the future, Woodall may never achieve anything like he did last spring as a junior.
In a rainstorm on April 22 at the Atlantic Coast Conference championship at Old North State Golf Club in New London, Woodall made a hole-in-one on the par-3 14th hole.
Woodall’s mom and grandmother were there to see it. And Woodall remembered what his dad had told him as a boy, that many people never get a hole-in-one.
And that’s true. Stats show that a low-handicap player’s odds of making a hole-in-one are about 5,000-to-1. But don’t tell that to Woodall.
Because just eight days later at the Cavalier Classic, he went to the par-3 14th hole at Birdwood Golf Club and drilled an 8-iron that rolled in.
His dad was there to see that one.
“Hole-in-ones are insane,” Woodall says. “The worst golfer in the world could have three or four, and then some of the better players could never have them. To get two in a week was crazy.”
And for someone who’s had a bad break or two, nailing two shots like that is a pretty good sign that Woodall’s luck is starting to turn around.