The key to winning the U.S. Junior Amateur is simple: hit fairways, make putts, card birdies, play well. But recently, there has been a common pattern that has emerged with the champions of this U.S. Golf Association championship.
Since 2009, a Cameron McCormick-coached golfer has won the U.S. Junior four times. Jordan Spieth won twice, in 2009 and ’11, and Will Zalatoris (short game) and Philip Barbaree, the past two U.S. Junior champs, in 2014 and ’15, respectively, each have one victory.
Which brings us to this year at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn., where another McCormick pupil is looking to continue this impressive streak. Noah Goodwin is a 16-year-old from Corinth, Texas, who is ranked No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings and is committed to SMU for the Class of 2018.
Goodwin is close friends with Barbaree, who rallied from 5 down with eight holes to play to win last year’s U.S. Junior over Andrew Orischak, and knows Zalatoris through both McCormick and Scott Fawcett, a former Web.com Tour golfer who caddied for Zalatoris in his 2014 U.S. Junior win and now works with golfers using his Decade Course Management System.
“They both go to Cameron and they both won, so I know I’m doing something right,” Goodwin said.
So far at The Honors Course, Goodwin is doing many things right. He shot 71-71 to tie for eighth in stroke-play qualifying, and then on Wednesday dispatched Runchanapong Youprayong of Thailand, 6 and 5, in the Round of 64.
Goodwin’s wedge game has been especially strong. He hit wedges to inside a foot on his first two holes, and had two other wedge shots to 2 feet or less during the match. In 13 holes on Wednesday, Goodwin didn’t card a bogey while posting eight birdies – or one birdie each for every vowel his opponent has in his name.
Wednesday’s performance reminded Goodwin a lot of his Round-of-16 match a year ago in Bluffton, S.C.
“Only is was flip-flopped,” said Goodwin, who lost to Andy Ogletree that day. “I was even par or 1 under, played well, but Andy was 5 under through nine. … Today, (Youprayong) made me make birdies.”
Goodwin will likely have to make many more if he wants to make it back to the Round of 16. His Round-of-32 opponent is Norman Xiong, Golfweek’s 11th-ranked player and a Canyon Lake, Calif., resident who is verbally committed to Oregon for the Class of 2017.
“I’m expecting a lot of birdies,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin knows Xiong’s game very well. They were paired together in the final round of the AJGA Thunderbird International Junior, where they entered the final 18 holes with the same score and were tied again with one to play. But Goodwin carded a closing bogey and ended up a shot behind Xiong, who took home the invitational victory.
Xiong’s style of play is pure power. If he’s hitting his driver well, there aren’t many – if any – juniors his age who can hit it past him. Goodwin expects to be hitting his second shot first many times on Thursday morning, so he’ll be looking to put the pressure on with his wedge game firing on all cylinders.
“I’ll be setting the bar a lot of times,” Goodwin said. “… But in match play, you have to think as you go because the gameplan can be turned around on you.”
The bar is set for Goodwin, as well, as he looks to add to McCormick’s recent dominance of this event.
“I believe I’m good enough to win this week because of all the hard work that I’ve put in,” Goodwin said. “And Cam believes that, as well.”