Talor Gooch learns from struggles at Arnold Palmer Invitational

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Talor Gooch learns from struggles at Arnold Palmer Invitational

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Talor Gooch learns from struggles at Arnold Palmer Invitational

ORLANDO – Mike McGraw doesn’t remember when it happened, but he knows it did.

Sometime during his 2010-11 freshman year at Oklahoma State, Talor Gooch was in danger of not qualifying for the Cowboys’ lineup at a tournament. Essentially, Gooch needed to shoot 62 or lower in the final qualifying round at Stillwater Country Club to get a spot.

McGraw, then Oklahoma State’s head coach, wasn’t going to give him a coach’s pick. So Gooch had no backup – a 62 or lower had to happen.

What’d Gooch do? He fired a 61.

“Every time I backed him into a corner, he came out fighting,” said McGraw, now the Baylor men’s head coach.

Gooch continued to battle on a tough weekend at Bay Hill.

The 26-year-old entered the final 36 holes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in solo third at 9 under. He would close 73-76 to drop to a tie for 26th at 4 under. Yet, it earned the PGA Tour rookie his fifth top-30 finish of the season, and the weekend slide could’ve been worse.

Gooch faltered early in Saturday’s third round. After striping it from tee to green the first two days, Gooch missed the green at the par-3 second and bogeyed. He then hooked a 20-degree hybrid into the water off the tee at the par-4 third.

Double bogey. Three over through three.

Gooch didn’t panic.

“I hadn’t really missed a shot the first two days, so I knew that we play this game long enough we know (those misses) will come eventually,” Gooch said. “So I prepared myself for that.”

He played his final 15 holes in 2 under to salvage a 73 and keep himself within four of the lead entering Sunday.

Gooch isn’t among the Cowboys’ most storied golfing alumni (yet), but he quietly has been one of the steadiest. And his profile is growing.

McGraw noted that on a 2010-11 Oklahoma State team that included Morgan Hoffmann, Peter Uihlein and Kevin Tway, Gooch was arguably the group’s second-best player by year’s end.

Bolstering that point was the time Rickie Fowler, who Gooch was paired with Sunday at Bay Hill, came back to Karsten Creek Golf Club (the Cowboys’ home course) one day during Gooch’s freshman year.

In that casual round, Gooch shot a 65 to Fowler’s 72. The whooping gave the freshman confidence about his future in golf and led to some smack talking.

Of course, that domination didn’t last long.

“He whooped me the next day,” Gooch said.

Gooch never won in college, but he was an All-American who pieced together eight top-five finishes in his four years in Stillwater. He turned pro in 2014. Despite grappling with a pair of herniated discs for his first 18 months in the pro ranks, Gooch hasn’t had a ton of trouble ascending.

Following two solid seasons on the Mackenzie Tour in 2015 and 2016 – both ending in top-20 finishes on the money list – Gooch put in a full campaign on the Web.com Tour in 2017. He posted a win and four other top-10s on the circuit to finish sixth on the money list and earn his PGA Tour card.

Now he’s a PGA Tour rookie making some noise. He’s made the cut in nine of the 13 events in which he has played and ranks 92nd in FedEx Cup points this season.

“It doesn’t surprise me that he’s playing well on the PGA Tour,” McGraw said. “I just see him really, really comfortable in himself, who he is and what he’s doing. He thinks he belongs.”

Gooch’s putting has improved over the years, but his game has revolved around his ballstriking. The best news? He’s thrived on the PGA Tour this season while not hitting it that great. He ranks 83rd on Tour this season with a 0.307 strokes gained: tee-to-green, meaning he is nearly a third of a stroke per round better than the average Tour player.

Gooch saw early this week a mechanical flaw that had gone unnoticed. He had shifted back into an old bad habit: keeping his weight on his left side rather than transferring it through. That flaw leads to him losing his posture, and that results in missed shots flying either way unless his timing happens to be great.

With that problem identified, his ballstriking came alive at Bay Hill.

“Once I saw (the issue) and fixed it, I felt like the old me,” Gooch said. Gwk

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