ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA — The moment Talor Gooch can’t forget came at TPC Craig Ranch in 2016, on the second stop of the Web.com Tour’s Q-School. He entered the third round on the qualifying number and bogeyed three of his first four holes. Negative thoughts were pouring in, and most alarming for Gooch, who had never had a job other than golf, was that he might have to join the workforce. For reasons he cannot explain, Best Buy occurred to him: he was broke and to fund his golfing career, he began to think he should join the Geek Squad.
When he now finds himself in times of pressure, he always thinks back to that day, when he was fighting for more than money and status. He was fighting for his career that day, and the memory already makes the pressure easier this weekend as Gooch has a three-stroke lead heading into the final round of the RSM Classic.
“Sure, there’s tons of pressure, there’s tons of money, there’s so much at stake,” Gooch said, “but it’s just different… I was in survival mode then. I’m not in survival mode now like I was then, but I can think about it and know that if I could do it when I was in survival mode, a little more comfort won’t make it harder. “
Gooch turned things around at Q-School, earned his status on the Korn Ferry Tour, and was playing with the PGA Tour greats a year later. He survived in the top 150 of his first two years, improved in 2020 and 2021, and now he’s playing the best golf of his career.
Last week we named Gooch one of Fall’s unsung heroes for his infallible consistency. He’s notched two top five and two T-11s in five starts, and now has the chance to end the calendar year with an exclamation mark. With a third round 67 on Saturday in cloudy, cold and windy conditions reminiscent of his childhood in Oklahoma, Gooch edged out Seamus Power (67) and Sebastian Munoz (69) in the tournament where five of the last six winners were downright 54. -the hole heads.
Conditions forced Gooch to strike a low Tiger Woods-style dart on several tee shots, and his training on 18 remained so low that another caddy in his group felt compelled to ask where he had grown up.
“Oklahoma,” Gooch said. “We have to learn to hit that one like that.”
On Sunday, as forecasts point to calmer conditions, Gooch will have to fend off Power, the 34-year-old Irishman who won his first PGA Tour tournament this summer at the Barbasol Championship, and Munoz, the Colombian who is also looking of his second victory on tour. The two played resilient golf in the strong wind, and Power’s round was highlighted by a chip-in eagle in the 15th, which was enough to briefly equalize the lead and mark his place in Sunday’s final trio.
“It’s a part of the game that I’ve always enjoyed playing,” Power said of his eagle. “I love chipping. I could spend hours stealing all the different hits.”
Power’s play and career began to change in March, after a heartbreaking 151st place in the 2019 FedExCup rankings. Although he did not achieve full status, he did manage to overcome a COVID-19 diagnosis and make your way through enough tournaments to benefit from his improvement in form. And starting from Byron Nelson in May, Power went on to five consecutive top-20s before winning at Barracuda. He hopes this isn’t his true heyday as a player, but knows he’s on an upward course and playing the best golf of his life.
“Everyone wants to be the guy right out of college who wins right away,” he said, “but it wasn’t meant to be for me. I wasn’t at the level that I was. ‘needed to be. So for me the journey was a little different. I didn’t give up hope or anything like that. I always said that if I didn’t think I could win, I didn’t. I wouldn’t have continued to play. I love to play golf, but the best part of golf is getting in contention shape, putting putts that count, hitting shots that count. “
The star of the early afternoon was Denny McCarthy, arguably the best touring putter of the past five years, having finished No.1 in strokes won / putt in 2019 and 2020, and top 20 in 2018 and 2021. His best club had been cold so far in the fall, and he was waiting for a day like Saturday, when on his nine forwards – the back nine of the Seaside Course – he put in 28-foot, 23-foot, 31-foot putts. feet and 23 feet again to post only the seventh 29 on the back in the tournament’s competitive history. In total, McCarthy won 4.83 shots from the field by putting just in those nine holes and finished with his highest total ever in this category – 5.761. For a player with his talent on the greens, this is a remarkable achievement.
“I have my own art form, if you will,” said the Virginia alum. “I’m just working on trying to perfect my own little system, and I’m not trying to let too many people tell me what to do because I know what I’m doing is really working.… I’m not looking the hole, I see something to follow along that line, whether it’s bullet marks or poa annua points or something that is beyond me that kind of visualizes something along those points. “
When asked if he saw a line representing the path of his putt, McCarthy laughed.
“I don’t like to think about it too much,” he said. “You make me think.”
McCarthy did a late double bogey to knock him nine under and off the top of the table, probably too far from Gooch to have a serious run.
In fact, the task of catching up with the leader will be difficult even for the men in his group. As the sun set on Saturday night, Gooch responded to questions from the media – serious and superficial – with complete serenity. Her first name does not contain the letter “y,” he said, as the maternal side of the family had a penchant for the creative spelling of names, like Amber, his mother, and Cassidi, his sister. (For the record, Gooch said he wouldn’t subject his own children to this quirk.)
He spoke about an annual golf trip he takes with his friends every year in early January and how he hopes he will have to reschedule if he wins on Sunday and gets a place in the Tournament of Champions in Kapalua. And he spoke of the chip on his shoulder that has led him from his early days, through the state of Oklahoma and through the tough days of his early professional career. Even now, he wants to be considered the Cowboys’ best player on tour, a difficult task when this group includes players like Viktor Hovland.
He’ll need that chip on Sunday when nature lets its guard down and its competitors inevitably fall low. But while he knows that securing his first PGA Tour victory will be a big challenge, Gooch also knows he’s faced worse. Whatever happens, he will not fail to step back.