Talor Gooch like Rory McIlroy and Woo Kim

At 2, Talor Gooch rigged his Power Wheels Jeep so it could carry his plastic golf clubs. He accompanied his father to the course at 3, occasionally hitting a few shots from the fairway. As a 6-year-old, he made an albatross and broke 80. He was already driving it 150 yards. He was a world champion three years later, claiming the second U.S. Kids Golf World Championship.

Gooch’s exploits quickly earned attention in Midwest City, an Oklahoma City suburb with a population of approximately 50,000. By the time he graduated from Carl Albert High School – where he won 19 of his 40 tournaments, including a state individual title – he was good enough to sign with Oklahoma State, one of the nation’s premiere golf programs. Even the Cowboys’ longtime football coach, Mike Gundy, who also grew up in Midwest City, knew about Gooch. “I’ve heard about you. You’re a hometown legend,” said Gundy, according to the Cowboys’ former golf coach, Mike McGraw. Now the ‘hometown legend’ is a PGA TOUR winner and the FedExCup leader entering the first event of the calendar year.

Talor Gooch, numbers

Gooch’s victory came in November, a few days after he celebrated his 30th birthday. He played a sterling Sunday round after starting the final round of The RSM Classic with the first 54-hole lead of his career. He hit 16 greens and didn’t make a bogey, becoming just the seventh player in the last four seasons to hold a 54-hole lead and then shoot 64 or lower to win. The others? Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Webb Simpson, Joaquin Niemann and Si Woo Kim. That’s a group that features three former World No. 1s. All but one of those players has won either a major or THE PLAYERS.

The PGA TOUR’s 2022 season resumes this week with the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Gooch had to cancel his annual buddies’ trip because of his debut at Kapalua. Not that he minds. This has the makings of a breakout season for the former phenom.

He finished 11th or better in all but one of his six starts in the fall portion of the schedule. With 852 FedExCup points, he holds a 122-point lead over second-ranked Sam Burns. That success — along with winning RSM’s Birdies Fore Love, which awards $300,000 for charity to the player who makes the most birdies or better in the fall — has allowed Gooch to start the Talor Gooch Foundation, which will benefit children’s causes.

It wasn’t always this easy. Then again, it’s often not. We can forget that the Morikawas and Hovlands are the exception. But Gooch was prepared for the trials inherent to so many pro-golf careers. He grew up around athletes, starting with his father, Ron, who played in the Texas Rangers’ organization, and knew self-belief was key to success, especially during the struggles.

“Any athlete will tell you if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will,” said Kelsey Cline, Gooch’s mentor and a former University of Oklahoma golfer. “Golf gets complicated, and we all make it tough. The two most important things are self-belief and ball control. Everything else will take care of itself.”

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