July 22, 2014
OpinionTuesday, April 29, 2014
Noh’s maiden a thing of beauty
The New Orleans PGA Tour stop, as much famed for its culinary pleasures as the golf course, since becoming the Zurich Classic a decade ago has specialized in first-time winners. Nothing changed this past week at TPC Louisiana, unheralded South Korea’s Seung-Yul Noh garnering his first win, hunted home by equally non-household names Robert Streb and Andrew Svoboda.
However little public attention Noh has so far garnered matters less than Tour-peers’ opinion, noting the baby-faced 22-year old has become a formidable ball striker, held back only by a balky putter. Sunday may have been the day Noh got rid of these demons for good.
Perhaps most surprising for those of us paying detailed attention to Noh for the first time was his ability to maintain the same poised demeanour and cool-calm over the closing holes, when a lead of three strokes was suddenly reduced to one.
Was Noh scoreboard watching?....We didn’t know, although he may have had the feeling things were going his way after his chip from a gnarly downhill lie at the edge of a bunker on the 13th luckily hit the flagstick on the bounce for a birdie tap-in.
Mostly we were gorily waiting to see if, with the finish line in sight, Noh’s nerve could possibly hold. What did happen was something entirely different and in its way as wonderful as watching an untested baby bird teeter on the edge of the nest, not sure if it can fly or crash to destruction.
Of 77 previous starts on the PGA Tour (that number itself a surprise) Noh had finished in the top five just once, and that as far back as 2012 at the AT&T National. Yet he had an interesting statistic that played to his favour. On the PGA Tour he leads the “bounce-back” category, the steely skill of following up bogeys with birdies.
That he’s also broken a record at TPC Louisiana by playing his first 54 holes without a bogey seemingly had become irrelevant. Noh had opened the door to near rivals Streb and Svoboda with his second back-nine bogey at the 15th, a wavering miss from eight feet and his first three-putt of the tournament, a jolting reminder maiden victories never come easy.
Noh put that dynamic to rest with shot of the tournament, a screaming approach iron at the 16th that never wavered from the flag, leaving a three-footer for birdie which he calmly rolled dead into the middle of the cup. Add another come-backer to that list!
All day no player had come anywhere close to that pin, set tight front with bordering water. To produce that shot into a ferocious wind, when failure would probably have cost him the title, dismissed all thoughts the young South Korean would fold. Nor did he. “I was never nervous,” Noh said later. “On the Asian Tour I once went 54 holes bogey-free and came second. This time I had more experience.”