Only two players have won the U.S. Open after making the field through sectional qualifying. After Talor Gooch birdied the second hole on Thursday at Erin Hills, his name was sitting at the top of the leaderboard. He turned to his caddie and said, "Look, we're leading the U.S. Open."
Gooch, a Web.com Tour pro and Arccos ambassador, didn't make history in his first major championship, but the 25-year-old did make the cut on a week where he admittedly didn't have his A, or even his B, game. Gooch sat down to talk with Arccos about his lasting memories from the week, the USGA's setup of Erin Hills and why his first-round pairing was so special.
It's been a few days since you signed for your card on Sunday at Erin Hills. Have you had time to step back and reflect on the week?
I finished up Sunday afternoon and drove with my caddie straight from Erin Hills to the next Web.com event in Springfield, Illinois, which is about a four-and-a-half hour drive. We used that time to talk, think and reflect about the week. The week truly was an experience of a lifetime. We're in the middle of 14 straight Web.com tournaments, so you have to take one or two weeks off here or there to stay fresh. I just happened to have one more off than I thought to play in a little bit bigger of a tournament.
In your collegiate career at Oklahoma State, you were in some big-time events, but nothing with the scale of a U.S. Open. Did anything about the week surprise you?
Not really. When you grow up watching the U.S. Open you can see what a large event it is. You see the crowds, the huge tents – you know how massive of an event it is. And my caddie, Malcolm Baker, has caddied in a handful of U.S. Opens before, so he did a great job of mentally prepping me for what it was going to be like. I was very comfortable and confident. Personally, I love playing in front of big crowds, so that was a dream come true. I grew up playing football, baseball, basketball, so from an athlete standpoint, being in front of a crowd gets you going. It's what you live for. There were a few holes with an amphitheater feel to them, and that got your blood pumping for sure.
There was a lot made about the fescue at Erin Hills, and the setup of a U.S. Open course is always a hot topic of debate. What was your take on the venue, and what was the vibe from the other players?
I thought the USGA did a good job. It was the type of course where if they weren't careful, it could have gotten out of control with the winds that could have come. When we first got there, it was blowing 30 mph. And with those greens, if there had been any more speed and firmness to them, it could have gone crazy. And on top of that, it rained a handful of days at the beginning of the week. So that's out of control for the USGA. But I thought they did a good job with it.
You were first off in the first round alongside fellow Oklahoma State golfers Kevin Dougherty and Jordan Niebrugge. It already was going to be a special week for you no matter what, so how did sharing that moment with your friends heighten the experience?
Being with your buddies, you get to laugh a little bit more and relax than if you're paired with someone you don't know. It was cool because these are guys who I've spent time with on the road, in the gym and on the golf course for years. And a large majority of that time you talk about the future. A few times, Kevin and I looked at each other and said, "Man, this is what we dreamed about. This is what we worked for. This is what we talked about." There were a handful of times where we were able to take a step back and look at it from a different perspective. Just to think, "How cool is this opportunity?" It just made it that much more special to share that experience with those guys.
After your hot start, did you get a chance to sneak a glance at the leaderboard to see "Gooch" at the top?
Oh yeah. I birdied the second hole and turned to my caddie to say, "We're leading the U.S. Open." A couple of moments like that through the front nine were really cool.
How did you approach the U.S. Open differently than a standard Web.com tournament?
I just left the golf course now at the upcoming Web.com event and spent a lot more time hitting wedges than I did last week. That's the biggest difference because there just aren't that many wedges out at Erin Hills. So I spent a lot more time on my scoring clubs to get those dialed in. Trying to get back in the mindset of trying to make more birdies and put my foot on the pedal rather than playing to salvage par. It's as much of a mental preparation difference as physical.
A few years from now, what's the first thing you'll remember when you think back to your first major?
I don't know if there was a standout moment, but more so, it's the feeling that I wasn't even playing that well, to be completely honest. I didn't have my A, or even B game, but I did a good job managing my way around the golf course and making the most of what I had for the week. I didn't need my A game to be competitive with some of the best in the world, so I can immediately take that into my view and realize I'm not that far behind these guys. I just need to refine a few elements of my game, and I'm there. It was definitely reassuring from a lot of standpoints. I'm close to where I want to be going.
You're new to Team Arccos. What's your experience with Arccos 360 been like, and what's your biggest advantage from using the system in prepping for events?
It's been great. The new Arccos Caddie feature is really cool. My coach and I are really big into statistics, so being able to see the areas where you think you good at, and you actually are is affirming. Then being able to see the areas where you think you're good, but you might not be so good, so you know what to practice. The numbers don't lie, so it's great to have that feedback. It's been helpful in tournament prep.