It's an Oklahoma Homecoming for Fowler, Hovland & Gooch
The dream of competing in a major championship for many remains just that. A fantasy. But for Talor Gooch, who grew up in Midwest City, Oklahoma, he is seeing his small-town dreams realized in a big way as he prepares to compete in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club - less than a two hour drive from his hometown.
“It's a dream come true for an Oklahoma kid to go to Oklahoma State and to play [the] PGA Championship at Southern Hills,” Gooch said Monday as he prepares to compete in his third PGA Championship. “I don't know how you can step on No. 1 tee and not get goosebumps because it's just special.”
Gooch is the only player in the field, born and raised in Oklahoma, who will get a chance to compete in his home state come Thursday.
That’s not to say it isn't still a special experience for Rickie Fowler and Viktor Hovland, who were both two-time All-Americans during their time at OSU. Hovland still calls Oklahoma home, and Fowler is quite famous for showing his support for his alma mater as he always wears the Cowboys’ signature orange on Sundays when competing on the PGA Tour. Fowler was a freshman at OSU the last time the PGA Championship was held at Southern Hills Country Club in 2007.
“To be back here at Southern Hills, to come full circle and being at Oklahoma State, this is a special place,” Fowler said Monday at Southern Hills.
Despite their Oklahoma connections, neither Fowler nor Gooch have played the course as much as some may have expected. Both estimate they have played the course around 12 times or so over the years. For Fowler, he hasn’t played Southern Hills since the 2009 U.S. Amateur Championship.
“I honestly don't remember a whole lot as far as details go even after playing the U.S. Amateur here,” Fowler said about returning to the major venue. “The routing, still being very similar, but I wouldn't necessarily be able to pick apart small details and what has changed.”
For Gooch, he’s just once played Southern Hills since it underwent a historic restoration at the hands of Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner in 2018 and 2019. That day, Gooch can remember the wind howling at 30 mph and temperatures hovering around 50 degrees, a far cry from the conditions players will face during the PGA Championship.
“When you think about Southern Hills, the luster that it has, I don't know how you can step on No. 1 tee and not get goosebumps because it's just special,” Gooch said. “You've got to do everything well and that's what makes it a major championship golf course, I think.”
Hovland, who makes his home in Stillwater, likes the feeling of comfort and the sense of relaxation he gets from being away from the world during breaks from the PGA Tour. Having just a quick drive from home to this week’s venue has been a bit of a shock for Hovland, who isn’t used to having his work so close to home.
“It's kind of weird just driving an hour away from Stillwater and then suddenly you're here at Southern Hills and playing a major championship,” said Hovland, who, despite the weirdness, has had an opportunity to play the venue more than his OSU counterparts given his proximity to the course. He says he’s played it a handful of times since the restoration, mostly over the past few months in preparation for the PGA Championship.
“I remember there being a lot more trees the first time I came here,” Hovland said about the changes to Southern Hills. “They have added a bunch of length and they have made it a little bit more open, but at the same time you still have to drive it really well out here. So, from that aspect, I feel like it fits me really well. There's no real faking it.”
There was no faking Gooch’s improbable journey from Midwest City, to the PGA Tour, to playing a major championship close to home. Once a boy with a dream, who uses words like luster to describe Southern Hills Country Club, will see his dream become reality at the PGA Championship.
“This is what you dream about, playing the PGA Championship in your hometown at one of your favorite places in the world,” Gooch said. “I don't take any of it for granted because I've seen so many kids that were so good throughout the years that haven't gone to this point. As humbly put as possible, I'm just grateful that I'm here.”