Noah Goodwin looks to further validate newest U.S. Open exemption

USGA

Noah Goodwin looks to further validate newest U.S. Open exemption

PGA Tour

Noah Goodwin looks to further validate newest U.S. Open exemption

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Craig Pullen remembers when he first started as the head pro at Oakmont Country Club in Corinth, Texas. During his first week on the job, he saw a little kid and his father getting ready to tee off on the first tee.

“Who’s that little guy?” Pullen asked a member.

To which the member responded: “That’s Noah Goodwin. You haven’t met him yet? Great little player. He’s got a phenomenal golf swing.”

A few days later, Pullen introduced himself to an 8-year-old Goodwin and his dad, Jeff, and watched Noah hit about 20 golf balls. Pullen’s jaw dropped.

“There aren’t a lot of grown men that can hit it like Noah could even back then,” Pullen said.

This week at Shinnecock Hills, Goodwin will be competing with the best grown men in the world in his first major championship, the 118th U.S. Open. And Pullen will be on the bag, just as he was for many of Goodwin’s USGA starts, including two U.S. Junior Amateurs, in 2016 when Goodwin lost to Min Woo Lee in the final and last summer when Goodwin beat Matt Wolff, who just helped Oklahoma State win an NCAA Championship, for the title.

That victory actually is the reason Goodwin, a 17-year-old rising sophomore at SMU, is in the field this week.

Last fall, the USGA announced that future U.S. Junior Amateur winners would be exempt into the following year’s U.S. Open, just like winners of the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur. Goodwin was given the exemption retroactively and became the inaugural recipient of the special invite.

“It was just a rush of emotions, and it was a dream come true,” Goodwin said. “Any teenager dreams of playing in the U.S. Open, and you all visualize making that putt win the U.S. Open. So to have that dream come true at just 17 years old is something I could have never wished for.

“… In the past, we’ve had U.S. Amateur champions and you see them at the majors. But the line between junior golf and amateur golf is becoming very, very blurred.”

When people try to say that the U.S. Junior winner doesn’t deserve a U.S. Open invite, all someone needs to do is point to the numbers. Six junior golfers are ranked inside the top 50 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking, at 38th in the world. (Goodwin would be the seventh, but he enrolled early at SMU last spring.)

Also, two of the past four U.S. Junior winners – Will Zalatoris and Philip Barbaree – earned tickets to Shinnecock Hills via sectional qualifying.

“The U.S. Junior is one of the hardest events to win in amateur golf,” Barbaree said. “You play basically 36 holes three days in a row (if you reach the final), and you’re playing against the best juniors in the world. Obviously, seeing Will, Noah and myself here is a testament to just how great that tournament it.”

Said Zalatoris: “Look at the past champions. Looking back at the last 25 years, a majority of them have won on Tour or contended – or have even won majors. It’s a good marker of talent.”

(The 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur will be played July 16-21 at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. The course has hosted seven U.S. Opens among 15 USGA championships, plus two PGA Championships.)

Goodwin will not only have a tee time guaranteed for Thursday and Friday, but he will also peg it in Tuesday’s Celebration of Champions, a four-hole golf exhibition honoring the winners of 2017 USGA championships. Goodwin will be joined by Frankie Capan (U.S. Amateur Four-Ball), Alice Chen (U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball), Kelsey Chugg (U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur), Sean Knapp (U.S. Senior Amateur), Judith Kyrinis (U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur), Matt Parziale (U.S. Mid-Amateur), Kenny Perry (U.S. Senior Open), Doc Redman (U.S. Amateur), Sophia Schubert (U.S. Women’s Amateur), Taylor Totland (U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball) and Ben Wong (U.S. Amateur Four-Ball).

“It’s a huge honor to play in the very first one,” Goodwin said. “I also think it’s just a great thing for golf because USGA is allowing all these champions for the different tournaments to come together. And people who might not see that side of golf will all of a sudden become exposed to it.”

And exposed to the game – and story – of Goodwin. Diagnosed with pituitary dwarfism at 9 years old, Goodwin, who weighed just 85 pounds at age 12, overcame the growth hormone deficiency to become the top-ranked junior golfer and win two AJGA Player of the Year awards.

Goodwin has never shied away from challenges. His biggest, Shinnecock Hills, awaits.

“I would like to say I’m surprised he’s here, but I’m not,” Pullen said. “He deserves it.”

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