By Ken MacLeod
If Taylor Moore, Talor Gooch or Chris Worrell are the next graduate of the Oklahoma Junior Golf Tour to earn a PGA Tour card, it will be another testament to the rising level of junior golf in Oklahoma.
Moore, who completed his eligibility at the University of Arkansas in the spring, wasted no time getting the doorstep of the PGA Tour. He finished third on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada this summer, earning a bye into the final stage of Web.com Tour qualifying. He then blitzed through the final stage last week, shooting 14-under-par to finish second individually, earning entry into at least the first 12 Web.com Tour events of 2017.
“What Taylor did doesn’t surprise me,” said Oklahoma Golf Association Executive Director Mark Felder. “He’s a great athlete, a good kid and a really good golfer.”
Now the goal is to finish in the top 25 on the 2017 Web.com Tour money list, earning a battlefield promotion to the PGA Tour in 2018. That opportunity will also be available to Worrell and Gooch, who earned guaranteed entry into the first eight tournaments of 2017 by finishing among the top 45 at final stage.
Moore, a two-time Class 6A state champion at Edmond Memorial, has recently moved back to Edmond where he is close to his teacher, Brian Soerensen, the director of golf at Kickingbird Golf Course in Edmond. He will play out of Oak Tree National, where on any given day he can find a game against a host of talented young professionals in various stages of pursuit of PGA Tour cards.
“If you can do well in the money games at Oak Tree, you can probably compete pretty well on whatever tour you’re on,” Gooch said.
The famed Oak Tree Gang loosely consisting at times of Bob Tway, Scott Verplank, Gil Morgan, Danny and David Edwards, Doug Tewell, Willie Wood, Mark Hayes, Andy Dillard and others for decades brought favorable attention to Oak Tree, Edmond and the state. All have now either retired or are playing on the Champions Tour. Until recently, it seemed that even though high profile players continued to flourish at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, no young professionals from Oklahoma were making an impact and those who came from out-of-state to play college golf were quickly moving on. OSU’s Bo Van Pelt, who settled in Tulsa, was the lone exception.
That began to change with the powerhouse teams at Edmond North, which set a standard in winning 10 consecutive high school championships. Most of those players also played in junior events at Oak Tree Country Club, in the PGA South Central Junior events and on the OJGT Tour, formed by Morri Rose of the Oklahoma Golf Association to give juniors a chance to play consistent, highly competitive events against top-notch competition without having to commit the resources to expensive national junior events such as those run by the American Junior Golf Association.
“Morri did a great job,” Moore said. “Those events helped me a lot. They taught us to be competitive and approach the game the right way. And now I think it shows the quality of player that comes out of Oklahoma.”
“A lot of what you’re seeing is due to Morri Rose and the OJGT,” said Gooch, the former Oklahoma State All-American from Midwest City. “He gave us the opportunity to keep competing in the fall and keep growing and getting better. There’s a pretty good handful of golfers right now from Oklahoma, not being a coastal state.”
“By the time our kids get through high school and go to college, they’re battle tested and ready,” Felder said. “That’s why so many college coaches are recruiting here and why the rosters are OU and OSU have so many Oklahoma natives.”
Robert Streb came out of Edmond North and has gone on to a successful PGA Tour career, even if we have to forgive him for now residing in his wife’s home town near Kansas City. Tway’s son Kevin Tway has earned a PGA Tour card for the second time for 2017.
In addition to Moore, Gooch and Worrell, a host of Oklahomans reached either the second or final stage of Web.com Tour qualifying and will likely give it another shot, in addition to the unprecedented number of Oklahomans now on the rosters at OSU and OU, many of whom will seek professional careers.
Worrell, a 2013 TU graudate who now lives in Jenks and works with Michael Boyd of Broken Arrow, saw the talent rising in the state during his high school days in Enid.
“With those guys at Edmond North and everybody else trying to catch up, you could see it growing,” Worrell said. “Guys like Kevin, Will Kropp, Dillon Rust, it was just a really solid stretch of producing good players in the state.”
Moore had a successful career at Arkansas, but has set a new standard with his play since leaving school. He credited some steps he worked long and hard on in college to his stellar play this summer and fall.
“It was a work in progress,” Moore said. “I took some needed steps in college that allowed me to flourish when I got out, to get better rather than mask some of the stuff I wasn’t doing correctly. When I was in high school I played three different sports and my swing was never as fundamentally sound as it needed to be.”
Working with both Soerensen and Arkansas coach Brad McMakin, Moore has honed his game and appears ready to make a quick leap to the next level. He certainly showed no hesitation about going low under the stress of qualifying school.
“I Just decided to treat is as another golf tournament,” Moore said. “I did a good job of that. The final round, I got off to a great start, 4-under after four holes. From there, just tried to give myself as many birdie opportunities as I could.”
Moore is playing this week in the Aruba Cup which features 10 of the top players from the Mackenzie Tour against 10 of the top players from the PGA’s Latin America Tour, a fun reward before the Web.com Tour kicks off with two events in the Bahamas, beginning Jan. 12-15. Six of the first eight events are held out of the continental U.S., meaning young players like the three Oklahomans will be faced with performing well on foreign soil to keep their cards.
All three are confident that they’ll be able to succeed, knowing they’ve cleared a huge hurdle getting to this stage.
“Now it’s just a matter of playing solid golf,” Gooch said. “A lot of the guys I’ve played against in Canada the last two years have gone on to have great success on the PGA Tour or Web.com Tour, so that gives me a lot of confidence that I can go out there and have success myself.”