Talor Gooch is a victim of the times. Just don’t pity him

May 2, 2024

It’s too bad Talor Gooch will not be at the U.S. Open in June. Nor the Open Championship in July. Many of his LIV Golf cronies will be at one of them, if not both. And many others are trying to be at one of them, if not both, throwing their names into the rings of a qualifying series. Gooch will not be there because he’s not entering qualifying.

Now, it’s possible that he’s too busy. That the slew of final qualifying courses and dates are too far from wherever he’ll be, and too close to whichever plans he has. Perhaps he has weddings to attend or important family matters to tend to. Or that he wants a break. Or…maybe he’s still annoyed that he didn’t get invited to the U.S. Open last year, after he had won consecutive LIV events and was unquestionably one of the 25 best golfers on the planet.

On Thursday in Singapore, where Gooch is playing this week, he and his not-yet-qualified Smash GC teammates — Graeme McDowell and Jason Kokrak — were asked if they intend to try their way into the final two majors of the year. Kokrak has entered both, and will fit those qualifying trips (Columbus, Ohio and Liverpool) into an already busy summer. McDowell is playing the Jupiter, Fla. qualifier on the Monday of a LIV week and will even compete outside London for an Open bid on the Tuesday of a week where he’ll be competing in Morocco. They’re up for the challenge. 

That doesn’t tell you everything — though Kokrak choking down laughter and Gooch’s delivery tells you a bit — but it pushes us into a similar position as last year. Where Gooch is shunning the meritocratic path so many others are taking. Thirty-five of his LIV brethren, according to Sports Illustrated. That’s entirely his right, but you don’t have to feel sorry for him. He believes his golf has been good enough to merit invites outside the norm, in much the same way he believed his PGA Tour record merited getting to play both warring tours back in 2022. 

Court documents revealed that Gooch had been warned multiple times by the PGA Tour that he would be suspended if he played a LIV Golf tournament. Weeks after he did so, at LIV’s debut event, he admitted he didn’t think the PGA Tour would actually do it. That they’d actually suspend him. When he tempted that fate, he found out that rules are rules. He wasn’t necessarily wrong for making the choices he did. But he was wrong for expecting the status quo to alter its form in his favor.

It was the first of what became a trend — Gooch trying to will his way into access without acknowledging there has always been clear consequences awaiting each of his decisions. Recall that he also requested a temporary restraining order against the Tour for entry into the FedEx Cup playoffs, for which he had secured enough points to qualify, had he been eligible. It was a fair argument to make, but a federal judge found it to be a losing one.  

Gooch also believed his play was good enough to warrant an exemption into the U.S. Open last year, and once again you could easily argue he deserved it. But the USGA had changed its qualifying criteria ever so slightly that Gooch was left on the outside looking in.

The USGA made those changes in early 2023, while a lawsuit between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf was in full force. Was one of the incumbent governing bodies of pro golf defending the interests of another? It’s plausible, and even probable. It’s also possible the USGA wouldn’t have altered its criteria had they known that representatives from the Saudi PIF would soon be holding private conversations with PGA Tour execs. It’s most likely the USGA would never have altered anything to begin with, had the normal structures of the game never been upended by the hasty creation of LIV Golf. We’ll never know. Gooch made 14 bogeys and missed the cut at the PGA Championship a month later, and was not missed at the U.S. Open a month after that.

All of this is, of course, a shame. Because Gooch would have made for a slightly better field at Los Angeles Country Club last June. And he’d make for a slightly better field at Pinehurst this June. Because Gooch is unquestionably one of the 40 or 50 or 60 best golfers on the planet, depending on when you compile that ranking. He is undoubtedly better than Michael Block and the 20 other club professionals who will compete in the PGA Championship next month. He is absolutely a better golfer than some of the folks who will compete at Pinehurst. They’ll be there and Gooch likely won’t, because rules are rules. Governing bodies lay them out months in advance. 

Next week, the PGA of America will finalize its PGA Championship field via a few extra invites, some of which will go to LIV golfers. Gooch received one last year when he was ranked 63rd in the world — typically invites are sent to the top 100 in the OWGR — but he’s ranked 624th now, largely because he hasn’t been doing what his fellow LIV-ers have been: going out of his way to prove his value-add to a field.

Joaquin Niemann played multiple times in Australia last fall and even in Dubai in January, playing so well he earned an invite to this year’s Masters and PGA. Louis Oosthuizen didn’t just play multiple OWGR events in December, back home in Africa, he won both of them. He might luck out next week. Dean Burmester pulled off a similar feat in December, and hopes he’s shown enough effort and skill to warrant an invite. Gooch last played an OWGR-sanctioned event six months ago, at the Hong Kong Open. He tied for 42nd.

It feels fitting that the savvy statisticians at DataGolf rank Gooch 41st in the world. (A year ago, he ranked 23rd.) Forty-first in their ranking makes Gooch the 8th-best LIV Golfer, which also feels fitting. He’s currently 10th-best in the LIV season standings. So when we all congregate at Pinehurst in six weeks, the 41st-best golfer in the world won’t be there, and that is too bad. But you know who else isn’t qualified for Pinehurst right now? The 40th-best golfer in the world, to continue using DataGolf’s figures. That’s Billy Horschel. The 44th-best golfer in the world, Andrew Putnam, will be competing at final qualifying, too. The 38th-ranked pro, Tom Hoge, might find himself on the outside looking in. Hell, even No. 25 on DataGolf’s ranking (Christiaan Bezuidenhout) doesn’t have a U.S. Open tee time locked up yet. That’s how it goes with these major championships. They’re cutthroat for those who play in them, even more cutthroat for those trying to get in, and there are more losers than winners every single year.