NS. SIMONS ISLAND, Georgia – Talor Gooch won his first PGA TOUR title just days after taking his 30th shower.
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But Gooch’s journey in professional golf is a testament to perseverance and patience, qualities derived from a variety of influences. There’s the dad who played minor league baseball and the seedy urban golf course where he learned the game. Playing for a college powerhouse that some doubted he could crack the starting XI sparked Gooch’s desire and the “lean years” as a professional strengthened him.
Gooch says he loves to prove people wrong. He did everything right at The RSM Classic on Sunday. He played flawlessly in the first final round lead of his career, shooting 64 to win with three shots. His total of 22 under 260 set the tournament record.
He accepted every challenge and will start the new year as FedExCup leader and one of the top 50 players in the world rankings. The RSM win was Gooch’s third top-5 in six starts during this emerging season; he finished 11th or better in all but one of these events.
With his standout lap on Sunday at Sea Island – hitting 16 greens and not bogeying – he became only the seventh player in the past four seasons to hold a 54-hole lead and then shot 64 or less to win. The others? Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Webb Simpson, Joaquin Niemann and Si Woo Kim. This is a group that consists of three former world number one and five players who have won either a major or THE PLAYERS.
Gooch isn’t surprised to see his name among the best players in the world, however. Some of his best finishes before this week were against some of the toughest fields in golf. While playing in conditional status in 2019 – he struggled through the previous season after having his appendix removed – he finished third in the Farmers Insurance Open. Only Justin Rose and Adam Scott beat him, he tied Hideki Matsuyama and McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Jason Day ended up right behind Gooch.
At this year’s PLAYERS, the tournament with the strongest field in the game, he finished fifth, behind Justin Thomas, Lee Westwood, Bryson DeChambeau and Brian Harman. And three starts ago, he shot a round of 62 finals in THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT to interfere with McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and his colleague from the state of Oklahoma Rickie Fowler.
“As an athlete, if you don’t have the courage to prove the opposite to people, you won’t last long,” he said. “I want to be the best and measure myself against the best.”
So he went to Oklahoma State, one of the best golf programs in the country, even though he knew some wondered if he was good enough to play for the cowboys. He was on a team with three first-team All-Americans, but still started every tournament in his first year.
He missed his first two attempts at Q-School, playing mini-tours and the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada instead. On his third Q-School attempt, a tough start to his final round of Stage Two, he wondered if he would need a job at Best Buy to fund his career.
“I had to learn to believe in myself during difficult times,” he says. Ron Gooch, who appeared in the Texas Rangers organization, taught his son to “get up, dust off and go,” Talor said on Sunday.
Wyndham Clark, another PGA TOUR player who played with Gooch in Oklahoma State, calls him “a player”. Another former cowboy, Charles Howell III, admires Gooch’s “calm confidence”. Gooch often accompanies Howell to his early Tuesday training rounds.
“Seven in the morning, daybreak, I’ll drag him out of bed,” Howell said. “These kids don’t like that, but what’s impressive is that he works all afternoon.”
It’s a work ethic instilled in him through his upbringing in public places at the John Conrad Regional Golf Course, which he calls “Your Typical Muni”.
“The greatest incline on the greens is exactly like this here,” he once said and pointed to a perfectly level cart path. “The greens are about as fast there,” he said, looking out over the fairway-long lawn on the driving range.
“If you didn’t grow up as a country club kid,” said Gooch, “you’ve just built up a different level of hardship than kids who grew up in country clubs with beautiful greens and Pro-V1 on the range and so on . “
A coach change in March also contributed to Gooch’s success. He started working with Boyd Summerhays, best known as Tony Finau’s coach, in March.
Gooch competed in 10th place in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green this week. He was runner-up on that statistic this week. His ability to control his ball in the wind was an asset here on the Atlantic coast in difficult conditions on both Friday and Saturday. He built a three-stroke lead that entered the final lap.
However, he did not play like someone who walks into Sunday for the first time with a guided tour. He typically hit the first 13 greens and birdie on five of those holes to build a five-stroke lead. When his lead on the turn shrank to two strokes, he made birdies on three of the next four holes.
“I always keep an eye on things,” said Gooch, “but it doesn’t change anything about your work.”
He doesn’t waver when things get difficult. That’s why he can now call himself a PGA TOUR winner.