Can you think of anything Tee Woolman hasn’t won or done with a rope in his hand in the last quarter century? Having a hard time? Join the crowd.
Three-time World Champion Team Roper Woolman, who roped at his 25th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2005, just turned 49. He celebrated his birthday during round three at NFR ’05 on December 4. But he’s been busy proving that experience is an edge in this event. Woolman and young gun Cory Petska won the NFR team roping average title at Petska’s third-straight Finals. It was Petska’s first average win, but nothing new for this team’s heading half.
Woolman, who’s also roped at 19 National Finals Steer Ropings, has now won rodeo’s Super Bowl five times. He got it done in 1980 and ’82 with the only guy ever to win the Finals six times-Leo “The Lion” Camarillo. The 1980 Finals crown catapulted Woolman to his first world championship as a ProRodeo rookie. He struck again with Bobby Harris at the back side for NFR average titles in 1987 (they split it with Jake Milton and Walt Woodard that year) and 1990.
Woolman, whose belt of gold buckles are dated 1980, ’82 and ’91, is in a league of his own on the overall National Finals appearances front. He’s at 44 now, and the next legends in that line are Roy “Super Looper” Cooper with 32, and Larry “Bull” Mahan with 27 qualifications in the three roughstock events.
Woolman and Petska banked $76,731 of the $5.25 million up for grabs at NFR ’05, which ran December 2-11 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. They placed in seven of the 10 rounds, and clocked in at 71.7 total seconds. Shane Schwenke and Jhett Johnson swooped in for second at 76 flat.
Their NFR haul helped Woolman and Petska climb all the way to second on the world team roping standings ladder from their pre-Finals perch of fifth. The reserve world titlists won $147,669 and $148,144, respectively, to No. 1 Clay Tryan and Patrick Smith’s $167,204 apiece.
Woolman and Petska had a mathematical shot at the world championship heading into round 10. But was it wise to risk their somewhat safe average lead on a relative long shot, when Speed Williams and Rich Skelton had just set the round-10 pace at 3.9 seconds the run right before them?
“We had a three-second lead on the pack going into the last round, so we wanted a smooth run,” explained Woolman, who lives in Llano, Texas, with his NFR barrel racer wife, Jacque, and son, Walker Mack. “We also needed second in the round to have a shot at the world.”
Based on the old “bird in the hand” theory, they weren’t exactly sure they wanted to go for broke and take a chance at going broke.
“We knew we had to be fast on that last one to have a chance at the world,” Petska pointed out. “It was a hard call. So we stuck to our game plan of roping him as fast as we could, just like we did all the others. I tried to black the average out, and rope him like he was just another steer.”
They were 5.1 on that last one for fifth in the round. That let Tryan and Smith rope with reckless abandon in round 10 (they were 4 flat for second). It was a solid and impressive showing for Woolman and Petska, start to finish.
“We work hard all year to get to the Finals,” Woolman said. “We wanted to just go catch that last steer and win a lot of money. This is a sweet deal. It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten this done. (Fifteen years if you’re counting.) It’s a great feeling to come here against the best in the world-at 49-and have a great young partner here with me.”
Petska is the 26-year-old son of longtime NFR header Paul, and two-time World Champion Barrel Racer Gail. Gail won the NFR average in 1972, the year she won the first of two straight world titles in that event. Paul won the NFR team roping average crown with his little brother, Monty Joe, in 1986. Cory’s sister, Tye, ran barrels at the 1994 NFR.
It was a fantastic finish, and Woolman described the rest of their year as basically, “A decent winter and spring, and an awesome summer.” This was the first time Woolman opted to ride his 2004 PRCA/AQHA Head Horse of the Year Megazord at the Finals. Dr. Greg Veneklasen had a healing hand in making that possible, and Woolman dearly appreciated all his extra efforts.
“It’s so short a setup here that all the horses are on pins and needles,” Woolman explained of why he hadn’t previously cracked out his sorrel streaker. “It’s a tough situation. Megazord scores really good and runs really hard. He gave me the same shot every night, which is obviously a big advantage.”
Woolman, whose sponsor partners include Wrangler, Cactus Ropes, Purina, Rush Sales, Quicksilver Chutes, Mohair Council, Coats Saddlery and 4-Star Trailers, gets in the groove of a little routine out in Vegas every year. This round, that routine included calling friends like Rod Lyman and Rube Woolsey every day. They helped keep him dialed in during the 10-day marathon.
“I just had that feeling we were going to get there,” he said, when it was all said and done. “My horse stayed strong, so my shot was right there all week. When everything’s lined out like that, it’s just easy.”
Woolman jokes around that because he’s so old, Petska has to pick up the slack. We all know that’s a laugh.
“To still compete with the kids is a great feeling,” Woolman said. “To still be able to rope with them and be competitive is pretty neat. It makes Cory have to rope fast sometimes, but he kind of likes that anyway.”
Woolman’s given a lot of young ropers their first professional leg up, including Smith. After holding a casual pre-season “tryouts” session, Woolman drafted the wide-eyed kid, who only started roping a few short years earlier, and helped him get to his first Finals and take PRCA/Resistol Rookie of the Year honors in 2003.
Petska gets a hoot out of Woolman calling himself old. Kid Cory knows better than to base roping evaluations on an irrelevant number that doesn’t much matter. The only numbers that really count when the big bucks are up are times and dollar signs.
“It’s great roping with Tee, because he knows his job and he does it really good,” Petska said. “He’s not as old as he thinks he is, because he still turns ’em fast.
“Tee turned all 10 steers exactly the same here this week. He roped so good. We came here to rope every steer as fast as he’d let us rope him; to take it steer by steer. This is awesome. Especially after sitting here as a kid watching my dad win it. This is pretty cool.”
Petska splits his time between Lexington, Okla., and Marana, Ariz. He was grateful to the guys who handed him horses to ride at NFR ’05. Petska rode Mel Potter’s 5-year-old buckskin stud Winston on the first seven steers, and Kory Koontz’s bay horse Switchblade on the last three.
“I want to thank my family and friends for all the support they’ve given me throughout the year and my whole life,” said Petska, whose strong stable of sponsors includes Justin Boots, Classic Ropes, Wrangler and Durham Trailer Ranch.
Neither the veteran nor the young gun is about to take a title like the National Finals Rodeo average for granted.
“This is the big one,” Petska said. “This is the biggest rodeo we have. And winning it is the next best thing to winning the world. There’s just something about winning the last rodeo of the year. It’s even better than winning the first one.”
“Congratulations to Clay and Patrick for a great year and a great week here,” said Woolman, aka Father Time of the Team Ropers. “I’d also like to wish Jake (Barnes) a fast and full recovery.”
Cheers to that.
“I hope Jake gets well soon, so we can all look forward to getting our butts kicked by him again in the new year,” Petska giggled. “I grew up watching Jake and Clay (O’Brien Cooper) dominate. They’re both my idols.”
And one of the strongest headwinds in Jake and Clay’s faces throughout all those championship seasons belonged to none other than TeeSquantnee Claude Woolman himself.
“This is a big deal to me,” Woolman said. “It’s been a long time.”