By winning the Zurich Classic, 22-year-old Seung-Yul Noh taught us it is not so much what’s in a name, but what’s in your game, if you are going to succeed on the pro tour.
Noh’s name is ripe for the picking among punsters. In fact, the highly regarded golf coach Sean Foley, while pronouncing the young star's name correctly, also lauded his budding talent when he said “Soon You’ll Know.”
Well, now we all know Noh.
In a year seemingly dominated by youth, the kid from South Korea shot to the head of the class by becoming the youngest winner of the season.
Noh showed no sign of nerves amidst the windy conditions at the Zurich, even as former PGA champion Keegan Bradley was breathing down his neck. He also showed perfect form and seriously solid putting at the most crucial moments of the event.
In fact, he played well beyond his age by leading the tournament for 54 holes and not making a bogey until Sunday.
As the world wonders who will replace the ailing and aging Tiger Woods, they can add Noh to a growing list of bright young stars including Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Russell Henley, Harris English and Rory McIlroy. Noh also joins Matt Every, Steven Bowditch and Matt Jones as a first-time winner this season.
He is now tied with 21-year-old Rookie of the Year and poster boy for the youth movement, Spieth, in PGA wins. But as someone who turned pro at 16, he has many more years of competitive experience. So while he may only be 22, he played Zurich like a seasoned vet.
Meanwhile, Spieth and McIlroy, ranked seventh and 11th respectively, may be wondering where all the competition has come from. It seems like only yesterday that that two would be battling for Tiger Woods’ crown by themselves.
Now, there is the 88th ranked-and-climbing Noh to contend with as well and, based on his stellar play at the Zurich Classic, he will be around for a while. This may be his first PGA win, but he already scored across the globe with victories on the European and Asian tours.
Like his game, Noh’s season has been consistent but not flashy. He has missed only two cuts in 14 appearances, but only two of those finishes were in the top-10. Meanwhile, Spieth has five top-10 and 10 top-25 finishes, and Reed has two wins and seven top-25 finishes this season.
Still, Noh showed that he belongs in the group of young pros who need to be watched. And not just because of the win, but for the way he won.
Noh took charge of the Zurich Classic by shooting a commanding 65-68-65. He then made two bogeys on the back nine Sunday and it looked like he may falter. Instead, he bounced back nicely, making birdies after each bogey.
That shouldn’t be surprising since he leads the PGA in the under-appreciated category called bounce back. He is also No. 1 in sand saves.
If you consider these two categories, you get a picture of a tough pro who fights back in the face of adversity. Make a bogey, follow it with a birdie. Hit the ball in the sand? Turn it into par.
Noh treated the entire event like one big sand save. Meanwhile, 28-year-old Bradley—who seemed to have the best chance of overtaking Noh—crumbled by shooting a three-over 75 that included three bogeys and a triple bogey on Sunday.
The calm and consistent Noh sealed the victory with two well-played pars.
Noh has been precocious since he turned pro at 16. By 2010, he became the second-youngest winner on the European Tour on his way to the Asian Tour Money List title.
But his time on the PGA has seen him wallow in obscurity. Last year was his first full season on the American tour and he missed the cut 13 times, while finishing in the top-10 only once.
Winning the Zurich has placed Noh in the forefront of our minds. How long will he stay there?
If character is a sign of potential success, Noh’s extended far beyond the golf course as he wore yellow and black ribbons on his hat to honor the more than 300 dead or missing in a ferry accident in waters off his home country.
It was a sign of solidarity by a very solid young player.
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