Legend of Talor Gooch plays out in Public Links
MIDWAY, Utah – Talor Gooch may receive all the benefits that come from being a member of the storied Oklahoma State men’s golf program, but his upbringing makes him the kind of player for whom the U.S. Amateur Public Links is designed.
The Cowboys have a private jet and a world-class golf course, Karsten Creek, at their disposal, but Gooch’s home course is a far cry from such luxury. He describes the course he grew up on, John Conrad Regional Golf Course in his hometown of Midwest City, Okla., as “your typical muni.”
“My course is a perfect example of what a Publinks player should be like. The biggest slope on the greens is like this right here,” he 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.
Gooch tied for second place in stroke-play qualifying at this year’s Public Links after shooting 7-under 64 Tuesday at Soldier Hollow Golf Course. He was at 6-under 136, tied with T.J. Vogel, one shot behind medalist James Erkenbeck.
Round of 64 match play begins Wednesday morning. Gooch will play Sam Saunders of Albuquerque, N.M., at noon.
Gooch made the Round of 16 at this championship last year at Bandon Dunes before losing to eventual champion Corbin Mills.
Gooch hit 17 greens Tuesday and made just one birdie putt outside of 10 feet. “It was a pretty easy 64,” he said. “I made a 30-footer on my second hole. After that, I had quite a few tap-in birdies. On the par-5s, I got a couple wedges close, and there’s a 64 for you.”
Gooch, who teed off on No. 10 Tuesday, made birdies on his first two holes. He bogeyed No. 13, but birdied Nos. 16 and 17 to make the turn at 3-under 32. He then birdied Nos. 3, 4, 6 and 8 on his back nine.
Soldier Hollow is located at more than 5,000 feet above sea level. The property was the site of the cross-country skiing and biathlon competitions in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics before becoming a golf course. The altitude has been an adjustment for the Publinks field. “It’s weird when you’re looking at a 180-yard shot and you’re thinking, ‘Is this 8- or 9-iron really going to get there?’ ” Gooch said.
Gooch was an honorable-mention All-American this year after finishing 34th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. During the previous season, he played behind three first-team All-Americans: Peter Uihlein, Kevin Tway and Morgan Hoffmann. This year, he had to shoulder more of the load, especially after Uihlein turned pro midseason. Gooch struggled as the postseason approached, though.
“At the end of the season, I took it upon myself to much too carry the team,” Gooch said. “It’s a tough lesson to learn, but I’ll be better for it.”
The Cowboys failed to advance to the NCAA Championship for the first time in more than 60 years, a shortcoming that has inspired Gooch this summer. “Failure can really motivate you,” he said.
Mike McGraw, Oklahoma State's head coach, said he first started hearing about Gooch when the phenom was 10. “He developed a little bit of a legend down there at John Conrad,” McGraw said. “He is the perfect example of why you have the U.S. Public Links.”
When Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State's head football coach and a fellow Midwest City native, met Gooch for the first time, he said, “Talor Gooch, I’ve heard about you. You’re a hometown legend,” according to McGraw.
On Tuesday, Gooch gave the people back at John Conrad something more to talk about.