PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Talor Gooch was just finishing up his post-round press conference Saturday at LIV Golf Mayakoba when his former captain Dustin Johnson walked past and shot a look.
Earlier in the week, DJ was asked about Gooch’s offseason departure from 4Aces GC, the dominant team during LIV Golf’s beta-year of 2022. Gooch wanted to play with good friend Harold Varner III on Bubba Watson’s rebranded RangeGoats GC. Fair enough – but Johnson seemed a bit incredulous that anyone would voluntarily leave a team that won four regular-season events and the Miami Team Championship, with team prize earnings north of $28 million
So DJ offered Gooch a parting shot.
“I did tell him he should enjoy being on stage in Miami because that was the last time he’s going to do that,” DJ said.
Gooch was asked Saturday about the incident. He said DJ’s comment was followed by immediate action.
“I promptly texted Bubba and Harold and told them what DJ told me,” Gooch revealed. “I said, you guys don't need any bulletin board material, but he basically just said you guys suck, so y'all better get your butts in gear because we've got to go chase down some titles.”
So now we’re two rounds into the 2023 LIV Golf League, and the drama is as thick as the jungle that surrounds multiple holes at El Camaleon.
Gooch will enter Sunday’s final round as the co-leader at 9 under. He’s tied with Peter Uihlein – who just happened to replace Gooch on the 4Aces. LIV fans curious to know if the RangeGoats or the 4Aces got the better player won’t get a definitive answer this week, but it’ll could certainly be the first indication.
It’s a delicious storyline for the first week of the new season, adding an unique flavor to the final group that tees off at 1:16 p.m. ET at El Camaleon. The shotgun start is 1:05 p.m. ET.
But if you think pistolas will be drawn on the first tee, please note: Uihlein and Gooch have no problems with each other. They both played collegiately at Oklahoma State. They’ve known each other for many years. They’re good friends, on close terms.
“I have a lot of respect for him,” Uihlein said of Gooch. “I like him a lot. Our wives get along really well, and we’ve goth got two one-year olds, so they mess around. They goof around with each other. So it’s a lot of fun.”
When Gooch decided to leave the 4Aces, one of his first calls was to Uihlein, who played for Smash GC last season but had yet to commit to any team for this year. Uihlein had finished third in the Individual Champion standings last year behind DJ (1) and South African Branden Grace (2). Essentially a free agent, Uihlein had the option of picking his next squad. As the No. 3 player, he was a hot commodity.
Gooch said the 4Aces would need a replacement, so don’t commit to anybody else.
“Obviously with his play last year, us and 11 other teams were volleying to get him,” Gooch said. “We kind of had been in talks all season, and we played together in London [the inaugural event of 2022]. We go way back to college and we played a bunch since then. We kept in touch the whole time.”
It was a relatively easy choice for Johnson to pursue Uihlein, and the decision was also easy for Uihlein to jump to the 4Aces. He calls them the “Yankees” of LIV Golf – high praise from someone who grew up in New England and rooted for the Red Sox.
Uihlein said he wanted to make a good impression this week, to prove without a doubt that he was worthy of joining the 4Aces.
“I didn’t want to come down here and finish 40th, that’s for dang sure,” Uihlein said. “I didn’t want to come down and lay an egg and let the team down. So far, so good.”
Indeed. Uihlein opened with a 4-under 67 and followed with Saturday’s 66. He has an eagle and 10 birdies this week and would be in the solo lead except for two late bogeys in the second round. It’s essentially a carryover from the regular-season finale last year, in which he made the playoff against his then-Smash Captain Brooks Koepka before losing on the third playoff hole.
Uihlein had two seconds and a third last season as he reclaimed his game. It’s evident 2022 was no fluke. He just needs a win now.
“If I keep putting myself in this position, that’s all you can ask for,” Uihlein said. “…I think I’ve done it three times now, so this will be my fourth one. If I just keep doing that, keep knocking on the door, hopefully it works out in my favor this time.”
Meanwhile, Gooch has yet to suffer a bogey through his two rounds. Like Uihlein, he’s shot 67-66 and ready to chase after his first LIV crown. “Anytime you can go bogey-free on a course like this, you’ve played some good golf,” Gooch said.
On Sunday, each player would like to prove points and deliver their new captains an individual title. And of course, there’s the team title that looms equally large. Uihlein’s 4Aces are two shots off the lead held by Crushers GC. RangeGoats are in fourth place, seven shots out.
“The Aces didn’t falter whenever they got Pete,” Gooch said. “They’re a great team and they’re going to continue to play well. Hopefully we can start playing like the Aces.
“Come the end of the season, I think there’s going to be some good battles.”