College Golf

This junior phenom has no regrets about passing on a KFT exemption for a fifth year of college golf


David Cannon

March 17, 2022

It was a sign of maturity, surely, though incongruously, that a mature college golfer somehow concluded he was not yet mature enough to leave the friendly confines of the university for the cutthroat world of professional golf. This despite an impressive résumé that includes a 59 at Oakmont Country Club. OK, not that Oakmont. The one in his hometown of Corinth, Texas. But let’s not quibble. He was 16 at the time.

Yet Noah Goodwin, now 21 and a fifth-year senior at SMU (having taken advantage of the additional year allotted by the NCAA because of COVID), was on the cusp of earning Korn Ferry Tour status via the PGA Tour University ranking a year ago, when he withdrew his name with the intent of returning to school.

“It was a difficult decision,” Goodwin said last week. “It’s every kid’s dream. I had a great opportunity to get status on the Korn Ferry Tour, but I knew I wanted more time in college, to spend more time with my teammates. I wanted to grow up more. My mental game wasn’t there. Postponing [professional golf] was the best decision I could make. The way I looked at it, professional golf will always be there.”

Now Goodwin again is on the cusp of earning Korn Ferry Tour status, though a full exemption is somewhat of a longshot at this point. The top five in the ranking, exclusively for seniors playing their final season of college golf, earn a full exemption for the rest of the 2022 KFT season, while the next 10 in the ranking earn a full exemption to one of the international tours that the PGA Tour runs.

In his fifth year, Goodwin has a 71.48 stroke average with his win at the Trinity Forest Invitational in the fall his third career college title. For the 2021-22 season he’s had four top-20 performances in seven starts.

Goodwin is 12th in the PGA Tour U. ranking, but his prospects for a top-five finish are narrowing. “To get to the top five, I need a few wins, probably,” he said. “We’re starting to get to the point of the season where it’s hard to move up.”

Goodwin is hedging his bet on finishing in the top 15 by entering a PGA Tour Canada qualifier in California in April. However it turns out, he will be playing without the burden of regret weighing him down.

“I was very tempted [last year],” he said. “If you’re playing college at this level, it’s your dream to go out play professional golf and I had the Korn Ferry Tour pretty much sewed up. It was very enticing. And it was something that I took a lot of time to think about. Cameron [McCormick, his instructor], my parents and friends, I got all their opinions. But no matter how enticing it was, I knew pro golf could wait. I knew that extra year in college would benefit me so much.”

A native of the Dallas suburb of Corinth, Goodwin is a former U.S. Junior Amateur champ and a first-team All-American last year. He chose SMU for its golf heritage, as well as its proximity to McCormick, best known as Jordan Spieth’s instructor. The connection allowed Goodwin to play a practice round with Spieth at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in 2018, which he qualified for after winning the U.S. Junior.

“Not many people get that privilege, to soak in the moment and enjoy that," Goodwin said. "I watched Jordan up close, and if I had any questions, he’d answer them. I lean on Cameron a lot, not only swing-wise, but mentor-wise. They always want to answer your questions. Bryson’s [DeChambeau] another one. We get to go out to Dallas National a few times with him. We play practice rounds with Harry Higgs and Austin Smotherman out at Trinity Forest. It’s a great atmosphere out there. You get to see the work that goes into it after you leave college.”

Playing with PGA Tour players, even stars, should help diminish the intimidation factor heading into professional golf, but if not, overcoming hurdles is on his résumé, too. When he was very young, he was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency that resulted in his taking up one of the few sports available to him.

“I was always in the one percentile in height and weight,” he said. “When you’re short and an actual twig as well, there aren’t many sports you could play. My dad introduced me to golf. At 7, I started playing tournaments.

“We were very fortunate. We caught it at an extremely young age. I would never eat. I had no appetite. Most times you don’t catch it until later on. At 9, I basically took shots from then until I was 16, every single night.”

He now is 5-foot-9, tall enough that with a quality golf game allows him to stand out in a crowd. He was the AJGA Rolex Junior player of the year in 2017 and 2018, joining Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods among the five to have earned the award in consecutive years. Last year, he was a finalist for both the Haskins Award and the Nicklaus Award, both of which honor the top male player in college golf, and last year was a Golf Coaches Association of America All-America Scholar.

Those aren’t the credentials of an individual who needs to “grow up more,” but the real world of professional golf is not for the uncertain. For Goodwin, that is not a concern, certain as he is that he made the right decision by delaying professional golf.