Fantastic future in Gooch’s sight

For most golf fans, Walker Cup hysteria died down Monday morning once the Cup was safely in Team USA’s possession for two more years. That’s not the case for 17-year-old Talor Gooch.

Now is the time when this future Oklahoma State golfer kicks it into overdrive, if that’s even possible, to get in shape for a 2011 Walker Cup run. Gooch, No. 15 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings, is already devoting three hours a day to a practice routine. He spent the majority of his summer on the road playing junior and amateur tournaments and still managed to find time to get to know his future OSU teammates. Oh, and then there are the caddie services he offers from time to time.

Yes, that was Gooch on Rickie Fowler’s bag at the U.S. Amateur Public Links in July, where Gooch was able to lend the Walker Cup star and former Oklahoma State All-American a little of his home course knowledge at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club when Fowler’s planned caddie backed out just before the tournament.

“It made me realize the importance of driving the ball even more,” Gooch said of an experience that allowed him to watch one of the best amateurs in the country up close.

Tee shots were once a weakness for Gooch, but after charting his statistics with the help of his dad Ron, Gooch upped his fairway accuracy from 50 percent to 68 percent.

“If I can get it in the fairway and give myself a chance to go at some pins and shoot some numbers then I tend to do pretty well,” he said.

Gooch’s swing bears a striking similarity to Walker Cupper and future teammate Morgan Hoffmann. That’s not an accident, as Gooch often will study Hoffmann’s swing when parts of his own need a tweak.

Steve Ball, who has coached Gooch for the past four years at Ball Golf, in Oklahoma City, encourages the use of Hoffmann’s swing as a guide, partly because the two are similar in body type and build. Ball has stressed the importance of observation in all aspects of the game.

“If you’re smart you’ll learn being around good players and watching to see what they do,” Ball said. “I told him to watch what shots those guys hit, if they hit some shots that you can’t hit. . . tell me about it and we’ll have you hit that shot.”

In addition to using Hoffmann as a reference, Gooch also has his eye on another OSU player, sophomore Peter Uihlein. Using a launch monitor, Ball has recorded Gooch’s ball speed at 170 mph, which is 8 mph lower than Uihlein’s.

“I challenged him to get to 178 on the ball speed to get to where Peter is at,” Ball said. “He’s working really hard on his weights.”

Ball has helped Gooch create daily practice routines, which he said Gooch will stick to even if it means staying at the course past dark to finish one final drill. The pair also talk nearly every day, and meet to work on Gooch’s swing about once a week.

That bond was especially important as Talor faced an up-and-down summer at AJGA and various amateur events. Though he won his U.S. Amateur and U.S. Junior qualifiers, Gooch also shot 77-78 to close the Rolex Tournament of Champions in June and 81-77 to open the Junior Players Championship two weeks ago.

Gooch was consistently in the mid-to-low 70s last year, which Ball said was a product of his go-to safety swing that didn’t allow for any extreme misses to the left. This summer, Gooch has committed to hitting a draw, and though sometimes eratic, it has helped him to get under par.

Ron Gooch, an elementary school P.E. teacher who attends many of Talor’s tournaments, also knows it’s been an inconsistent summer.

“I could see him get excited again a couple weeks ago,” Ron said. “There was an amateur (event) called the Scratch Players and it was in our hometown, fortunately. He played well.”

Talor shot 4 under and tied for seventh at that tournament. Together with a T-7 at the AJGA Thunderbird Invitational in May (which was sealed by a final-round 66), it was one of the highlights of the summer.

With just one more year before Gooch makes the jump to college golf, the family’s golf experience is about to change. Ron can remember the set of plastic clubs Talor received for his first birthday, the days when the two played together regularly (now when Ron goes to the course, he’ll often stand behind Talor “to check this and that”) and when he caddied for Talor before officially being fired when his son was 9.

“Everybody just assumed that (OSU was) exactly where he would go,” Ron said with visible excitement that Talor will be another in a long line of family members to wear the orange and black – colors which he wore during the final round of the Junior Players Championship.

With so many great players on the roster, Gooch knows making the Cowboys’ traveling team won’t be easy, but that was part of the attraction.

“It’s a really good challenge for me,” he said. “It will help me expand my game and take it to another level because that’s what I’m going to have to do to compete up there.”

And as for playing on the Walker Cup team? It’s already become a topic of conversation among his golf buddies.

“We were just talking about how it would be pretty cool if we could be Walker Cup teammates across seas in two years,” Gooch said.

There shouldn’t be any shortage of Walker Cup chatter where he’s going.

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