Sean Martin / PGATOUR.COM
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Talor Gooch won his first PGA TOUR title just days after turning 30, joking that the maturity that comes with this new stage of life is what propelled him to victory and allowed him to give the victory speech he’s practiced dozens of times in the shower.
But Gooch’s journey in professional golf is testament to perseverance and patience, qualities that have come from a variety of influences. There’s the father who played minor-league baseball and the scruffy municipal golf course where he learned the game. Playing for a collegiate powerhouse, where some doubted if he could crack the starting lineup, galvanized Gooch’s desire and the “lean years” as a pro strengthened him.
Gooch says he loves proving people wrong. He did everything right Sunday at The RSM Classic. He was flawless playing with the first final-round lead of his career, shooting 64 to win by three shots. His total of 22-under 260 tied the tournament scoring record.
He answered every challenge and will enter the new year as the FedExCup leader and one of the top 50 players in the world ranking. The RSM win was Gooch’s third top-5 in six starts during this nascent season; he finished 11th or better in all but one of those events.
Gooch isn’t surprised to see his name amongst the best players in the world, though. Some of his best finishes before this week were against some of the strongest fields in golf. While playing on conditional status in 2019 – he battled 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 finished directly behind Gooch.
He was fifth at this year’s PLAYERS, the tournament with the game’s strongest field, behind only Justin Thomas, Lee Westwood, Bryson DeChambeau and Brian Harman. And three starts ago, he shot a final-round 62 in THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT to get in the mix with McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and his fellow Oklahoma State alum, Rickie Fowler.
“As a sportsman, if you don’t have that little bit of grit to go prove people wrong, you’re not going to make it long,” he said. “I want to be the best and I want to compete against the best.”
That’s why he went to Oklahoma State, one of the nation’s premiere golf programs, even though he knew there were some who wondered whether 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 of his freshman year.
He missed in his first two attempts at Q-School, playing mini-tours and the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada instead. In his third Q-School attempt, a tough start to his final round of second stage left him wondering if he’d need to get a job at Best Buy to fund his career.
“I had to learn how to believe in myself in some tough times,” he said. Ron Gooch, who pitched in the Texas Rangers’ organization, taught his son to “get right back up and dust yourself off and get going,” Talor said Sunday.
Fellow PGA TOUR player Wyndham Clark, who played with Gooch at Oklahoma State, calls him “a gamer.” Another former Cowboy, Charles Howell III, admires Gooch’s “quiet confidence.” Gooch often joins Howell for his early Tuesday practice rounds.
“Seven a.m., crack of dawn, I drag him out of bed,” said Howell. “Those kids don’t like that, but what’s impressive is then he’s working all afternoon.”
It’s a work ethic instilled from his public-course upbringing, at the John Conrad Regional Golf Course, which he’s called “your typical muni.”
“The biggest slope on the greens is like this right here,” he once said, pointing at a perfectly-flat cart path. “The greens are about that quick right there,” he said as he looked toward the fairway-length turf on the driving range.
“Growing up not a country club kid,” Gooch said, “it just built a different kind of toughness in you than kids who grew up at country clubs with nice greens and Pro-V1s on the range and all that.”
A coaching change in March also has contributed to Gooch’s success. He started working with Boyd Summerhays, best known as Tony Finau’s coach, in March.
Gooch entered this week ranked 10th in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green. He was second in that stat this week. His ability to control his ball in the wind came in handy during difficult conditions on both Friday and Saturday here along the Atlantic coast. He built a three-stroke lead entering the final round.
He didn’t play like someone entering Sunday with a lead for the first time, however. He hit the first 13 greens in regulation, making birdie on five of those holes to build a five-stroke advantage. When his lead dwindled to two shots at the turn, he made birdies on three of the next four holes.
“I always kind of keep an eye on things,” Gooch said, “but it doesn’t change what you’re doing.”
He doesn’t waver when things are difficult. It’s why he can now call himself a PGA TOUR winner.
Canadian Notes: Mackenzie Hughes, a former winner of this event, posted a 62 on Sunday to finish second.