Written by
Mike McAllister
May 15 2024
- 5 MIN
Gooch PGA Champ story image

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Thirty minutes after arriving back home in Oklahoma following a lengthy trip from LIV Golf’s most recent tournament in Singapore, Talor Gooch saw an email that brought a huge smile to his face. It was an invitation to play in this week’s PGA Championship.

“I had no idea, no clue that it was happening,” Gooch said. “It was a bit of a surprise, for sure.”

Given that Gooch was LIV Golf’s best player last season, with three wins that ultimately earned him the season-long Individual Championship, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. His results over the past 12 months certainly merit the invite.

But the surprise is that for the first time, an organization running one of golf’s four majors rewarded a player solely on the basis of his LIV Golf performance.

The PGA of America ignored his current OWGR position (668th) and instead recognized his success and consistency against the world-class competition he faces in LIV Golf, which counts 14 major champions (with 27 major titles) among its field of 54 players.

“This was the first time that one of the majors has recognized just the play of golf within the confines of LIV,” said Gooch, a member of defending PGA champion Brooks Koepka’s Smash GC team. “And so, it's a first of its kind, which is a step in the right direction, I think. And I'm very honored and very grateful for it.”

Gooch wasn’t the only LIV Golf player to receive a special invite to this week’s major at Valhalla Golf Club. There were six others, including Torque GC Captain Joaquin Niemann, who also received an invitation to play in last month’s Masters.

Niemann currently tops LIV Golf’s 2024 Individual standings thanks to two wins in the season’s first seven tournaments (including in Mayakoba, when he opened the season by shooting a 59). But Niemann also won the Australian Open during the offseason and has made three non-LIV starts in 2024, with a couple of top-10 finishes.

By comparison, Gooch has not played any tournament outside the LIV schedule in 2024, and he had just one offseason start, late last year at the Hong Kong Open. He made a personal decision to let his LIV results determine his ability to qualify – and that includes the last two majors of the year, the U.S. Open and Open Championship. Gooch revealed recently that he has no plans to attempt to qualify for either of those events.

“Obviously, Augusta recognized what Joaco did outside of LIV, which was awesome. And Joaco played great and was chasing that,” Gooch said. “I obviously didn't choose that path. I wasn't chasing after world ranking points, wasn't chasing after it.”

He said receiving the invite from the PGA of America has helped to justify his approach.

“It definitely feels good that what I believe in is that if you play great golf on LIV, you should be rewarded,” he said. “The amount of great players and the courses we're playing and all things considered – to have the year that I had, I played great last year and it's cool that great golf has gotten rewarded and recognized. Hopefully that'll continue.”

Gooch was also extremely happy to see Niemann and the other LIV players receive special invites to the PGA Championship based on their performances and individual schedules. “We've been on the bad end of a lot of criticism and a lot of the things that have happened in the last couple of years of professional golf,” he said. “It just felt like a win for all of us that have caught the bad end of stuff. Just felt I was super, super happy for all them.”

Of course, now that Gooch has a spot in this week’s major, the next question becomes: What is he going to do with it? He played in three majors last year based on previous exemptions that were not applicable in his case this year, finishing T34 in the Masters and missing the cut in the PGA and Open Championship.

A win this week would, of course, assure him of a spot in the PGA Championship for the rest of his career, as well as a five-year exemption into the other majors. A top-15 finish would get him an invite into next year’s PGA Championship.

Without any guarantees of future major starts, will he go into the tournament pressing to make the most of this opportunity?

“It's easy for your mind to go there of like, I got to take advantage of this – but that doesn't breed success,” said Gooch, whose best finish in 11 previous major starts is a tie for 14th at the 2022 Masters. “And so, you just have to get back into the normal set of things and how you go about your business at a tournament. That's how I view it. 

“I know that what I do to prepare for a tournament has been successful and I just want to set myself up for success this week and so we're just treating it just like any other week.”

On Tuesday, his schedule was interrupted by morning thunderstorms, forcing him to finish his practice round in the late afternoon. On Wednesday, he’s playing nine holes and will reduce the amount of grind time on the range. 

He knows that a chasing-and-pressing mentality will be necessary against what arguably may be the best field in golf this year, but he’s determined to stick to the routine that he knows works for him.

“What I have now is what I'm going to have come Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and it'll either be enough or it won't,” he said. “I know I've put the work in.”

Although Gooch has yet to return to the winner’s circle this season, his 2024 results have been consistently good – four top 10s in seven starts, including a tie for second in Las Vegas and a solo fourth in Singapore. He ranks eighth in the Individual standings, nearly 66 points behind Niemann but just 30 points behind second-place Jon Rahm. Improved performances in the second half of this season should give him a shot to defend his Individual Championship.

Known as one of golf’s best iron players, Gooch said his ball striking has not been as solid as last year.

“I haven't had nearly as much control, but it's been cool to see how other parts of my game have stepped up,” he said. “And one of the cool things that happened last year with winning in different ways was I won with different types of games and different types of weeks.

“So, there's a confidence that comes with knowing I don't have to be perfect this week to compete. I hope I have my A game, but the experience has shown me and the way that my game has progressed is I don't have to have my A stuff to win any given week. That is the maturity and the kind of the place that my game has gotten, which is cool.”

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/PGA of America)

Related News

Loading data