The U.S. Open of the National Finals of Team Roping is among the Big Four of open ropings. Along with the Bob Feist Invitational, the George Strait Team Roping Classic and the Wildfire Open to the World, the U.S. Open gives pros their best shot at a one-day big payday. In fact, the average winners collected $50,000 per man.
The 2007 winners, Clay Tryan and Walt Woodard, surprisingly, have never had much success at the Oklahoma City event.
"I've never won anything in the average there," Tryan said.
"I've roped good there before, but never really done good for the big money," Woodard added.
So this year, their first roping together day in and day out at the rodeos, their strategy changed.
"Before every roping, I draw a plan out of what I want to do and it never works," 2006 runner-up and 1981 World Champion Woodard said. "At these big ropings, these guys are so tough and they rope so good that everybody just doesn't want it to get away from them. Nobody wants to let the leaders get too far out in front of them, so everybody has it in their minds to start fast. I decided not to do that. I decided not to take all day long, but take a good shot, rope two or three steers and then see where I was."
Across the chute, Tryan was on the same page. The 2005 world champion decided to rely on his 2005 AQHA Horse of the Year, Thumper.
"I just let my horse do all the work, he's real good at the jackpots," Tryan said. "I made sure I scored deep enough, let him run and get close and catch them, try to handle them good and let my partner rope two feet. At those ropings, if you rope sharp enough and just rope good, you're going to win at least third and third pays quite a bit."
After three steers, Tryan and Woodard saw that they were right in the mix for the lead, so decided to stick with the plan.
"After three, there were two or three guys right with me, so I thought, 'Well, I'm not too far behind, I'm kind of right with everybody, so I'll do it again.' I did it again and everybody roped a leg. So now I'm out there by myself and I thought, I'll just keep catching now."
That's exactly what they did, entering the final round as the high team. As it turned out, the second high call team legged up, and Tryan and Woodard only had to be 8.6 to win it. In the end, they roped six steers in 44.82 seconds.
"You want to be good on those days when you're out here trying to rope for a living," Tryan said. "Rodeo's hard to make a living at, except for the National Finals. So that's why you put a lot of pressure on yourself at those jackpots to do well."
That, plus a little experience and good fortune, led the teammates to their first-ever U.S. Open Championship.
"You've got to rope good and you've got to be prepared, but you need some luck to win a major event because these guys are so talented," Woodard said. "And we were lucky, we drew the same little steer in the first go round and the fourth go round."
U.S. Open Average
1. Clay Tryan and Walt Woodard, 44.82 seconds on six, $50,000 per man;
2. Jake Cooper and Jimmie Cooper, 45.84, $28,650;
3. Turtle Powell and Travis Graves, 46.51, $22,600;
4. Rance Gantt and Nick Rowland, 47.05, $15,600;
5. Ty Blasingame and Ryon Tittel. 47.86, $7,600.