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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Rod Moore knows what a competitor looks like, having spent 20 years on the bench as a baseball coach at both the collegiate and high-school levels, including tutoring All-Star pitcher Garrett Richards.
But, Tuesday afternoon at the 114th U.S. Amateur, all he had to do was point about 35 feet away to his eldest son, Taylor, to show off what a win-at-all-costs athlete looks like.
“He has the ‘it’ factor,” the elder Moore gushed. “He’s got that competitive spirit. It doesn’t matter if you are playing him in cards or horse in basketball; he wants to win. if he doesn’t win, he gets mad.”
Needless to say, after a standout junior career, Taylor has had to learn patience as he failed to earn victories in his first two years at Arkansas. He was second on the team with five top-10 finishes as a sophomore, a year after being named co-SEC Freshman of the Year. He finished the college season ranked No. 75 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings and is No. 112 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
While satisfying to make progress for his first two years, introducing swing changes in the process, Taylor was still devoid a victory outside of the Saguaro Amateur in December 2013.
“Sure, it’s been a little frustrating,” the 21-year-old said after securing co-medalist honors Tuesday at 8 under with Georgia’s Lee McCoy.
“But I am taking baby steps in the right direction. (Alabama All-American) Bobby Wyatt didn’t get a win until his fourth year. It’s about keeping your head down and let happen what’s going to happen.”
Rod, who is caddying for his son this week, has seen Taylor mature in front of his eyes, seeing that winning attitude adjust in a sport that can be as frustrating as they come.
“In this sport, you learn to take that moment when you are mad or upset and not let anyone know if you are 5 under or 5 over, and I’ve seen that (in Taylor) now,” Rod added. “It doesn’t mean in the last couple of years he hasn’t had his moments, but it’s learning how to channel those properly. He’s done a much better job in minimizing those moments when you get upset with yourself.”
That patience and stick-with-it attitude has suddenly paid dividends for the business major Tuesday. He scuffled through 12 holes with three bogeys and a birdie to fall back to 4 under after sharing the overnight lead at 6 under. Struggling with his irons and approaching the 14th hole, Taylor set a goal of giving himself five birdie chances, hoping to get back to even on his round. He converted on four of them, finishing with a flourish to distance himself from the field by three shots before McCoy caught him late with a birdie frenzy at the end of his round.
“It’s all about staying focused,” Taylor said after posting 12 birdies in 36 holes, making match play for the first time in three attempts at the U.S. Amateur.
As young as 5 years old, that focus wasn’t solely on golf. Taylor was a standout athlete, playing basketball, baseball and football as well. At 7, Taylor played his first golf tournament in east Texas, opening the eyes of one of Rod’s friends, a former collegiate golfer who told him that Taylor had something special on the links. Rod himself saw more of a shortstop, but knew that his baseball allegiances needed to be pushed aside to let Taylor define his own direction.
Over the next seven years, Taylor split time playing in golf and baseball tournaments, with weekends spent on the diamond and early week on the golf course.
But Rod saw the writing on the wall.
“He would not miss a golf tournament for baseball, but would miss a baseball tournament for golf,” Rod said.
Rod also had to make a change as Taylor’s commitment to golf became more serious. Coaching high school baseball wasn’t conducive to supporting a high-level amateur athlete, so he left his job behind and joined the oil industry, working for Weatherford. The switch was not only beneficial for his bank account, but also afforded him the opportunity to spend more time with Taylor and his younger brother, Payton.
Taylor made his dad’s bold decision look brilliant, becoming a two-time AJGA Rolex All-American and two-time 6A state champion in Oklahoma, landing him a scholarship to his parents’ alma mater.
The family, including mom, Melinda, now spend their summers logging plenty of air miles, with Taylor visiting Chattanooga, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Atlanta this summer for tournaments, while Payton has had basketball commitments in Kansas City, Wichita and Dallas.
And as Rod took a business call while watching Taylor grind on the putting green as 85-degree temperatures scorched Atlanta Athletic Club, the former Arkansas baseball player was simply giddy about being able to share this experience with his son.
“I’m not going to get these moments back.”