Noah Goodwin came out of the birth canal with more focus and competitive spirit than most of us muster up in a lifetime. He was born with a hormone deficiency, so he was smaller than the other kids. But, what Noah lacked in stature, he made up for in perseverance, discipline, and an uncanny ability to dream big. Those qualities may one day propel this now 15-year-old to the top of a PGA leaderboard.
“Noah has always been a goal-oriented kid,” said Noah’s dad, Dr. Jeff Goodwin, a professor of kinesiology at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. “He started taking Tae Kwon-Do when he was four, and as soon as he earned his Yellow Belt, announced to me that he was going to become a Black Belt—breaking boards, the whole thing. He became a first-degree Black Belt in December of 2007, at the age of seven.”
Noah wanted to keep going. That is, until he learned that he wasn’t allowed to test for a second-degree belt until he turned 13. Instead of waiting six years, this very atypical Texas grade-schooler started seeking out another goal.
“I’d been going to the golf course since I was little, just to spend time with my dad. But, when I was done with Tae Kwon Do, I started playing more,” Noah said. “I think I liked golf because I realized that you don’t have to be big to be good at it.”
This is not to say that he had a natural gift for the game.
“When I started playing golf, I wasn’t good at all,” Noah said. “Eventually, something clicked.”
The problem was, his home course didn’t have a junior golf program, so, there weren’t a lot of kids on the course. He played with his dad, or by himself, until Mitzi Campbell, Oakmont Country Club’s club champion, spotted Noah playing solo behind her, and invited him to play up. At first they played for quarters, then for pride.
“I think I started practicing harder because of her,” Noah said. “I wanted to beat her the next time we played.” His competitive fire was once again stoked.
Everything changed when Noah started competing in U.S. Kids tournaments, Northern Texas PGA tournaments, Legends Junior Tour tournaments, and then American Junior Golf Association tournaments. Not only did he find a new outlet for his competitive spirit, and the opportunity to play against kids his own age, but he also discovered that he wanted golf to be more than a hobby. Noah wanted to make it his future.
“The more I played, the more I felt like I could make something work with golf. I knew I wanted to be a pro on the PGA tour,” Noah said. “I can’t really tell you why I knew this was the right thing for me. It was just the gut feel of an eight-year-old boy, I guess.“
But, nearly eight years later, with the support of his parents, Noah Goodwin is powering his way toward that goal—one AJGA tournament at a time.
Goodwin the Grinder
Perhaps the thing that sets Noah apart from many junior golfers is the very thing that makes it so easy to cheer him on. Noah isn’t a golf prodigy. He’s a grinder. He’s good at golf because he works at it. Really works at it.
At a time when most 15-year-olds are swirling in the vortex of acne, homecoming and video games, Noah is practicing golf at Oakmont Country Club, three to five hours a day.
“I like to practice on the course, and play from the green-back,” Noah said. “Being small, I’m not going to get the distance some other players can. So, a good short game is my strength. I like to drop balls on different places on the course and work my way in.”
Although Noah’s dad, Jeff, is a self-proclaimed hacker; as a kinesiology professor, he knows quite a bit about the best way to learn motor skills. And, according to Noah, he’s a wizard at course management.
“My dad has a God-given gift that lets him dissect any golf hole and figure out the best way to play that hole,” Noah said. “I struggle with taking his advice sometimes. Although I know I should play smart, I also know that I can hit a 200-yard shot 3 paces off of the green, even though there’s water on the left. My dad helps me pull back and ask myself, ‘just because you can hit a shot like that, is that really the smartest shot to hit’?”
This past year, Noah started working with golf performance coach Cameron McCormick, who also guides top PGA player Jordan Spieth. It’s been a good, though initially humbling, experience.
“I remember my first lesson. It was pouring down rain and we were putting for an hour. Then, Cam asked if I wanted to hit some balls,” Noah said. “After a few shots, he pulled me over to the machine that was tracking what I was doing. We looked and my backswing and he said, ‘Noah, if I was going to teach someone how to take the club back correctly, this is what I’d show them’. “
So far, so good.
“Then, he pointed out all the problems with my downswing,” Noah laughed. “The good part was, we could fix it. That’s what it’s about; that’s why you work with a swing coach.”
Beyond swing mechanics, McCormick has helped Noah with his mental game, as well.
“He’s helped me a lot with self belief. I’m a confident person, but when I’m golfing poorly, I tend to get down on myself. Cam’s shown me that there are different elements in golf, like wind, that are going to have an impact, no matter what I do,” Noah said. “You just have to go out every round and believe that you’re going to hit every shot exactly the way you want to hit it. That won’t happen, but that’s the way you have to think, no matter what.”
Climbing the Ranks of the AJGA
In 2016, Noah is fully focused on competing in AJGA tournaments, with a schedule that has him traveling, with his parents, from venue to venue every month. How does he size up against the competition?
“At this point, I’m playing against some of the best junior amateurs in the world, so I can really compare myself to them,” Noah said. On any given day, no one knows who will play the best and that is exciting to me to see who will handle the challenges the best. Golfers at this level are amazing and it’s hard to say that one person has something that others don’t have. “But, if I have a strength, or an advantage, it’s that I always believe I can make the shot. Since I’m small, I’ve had to work at finding different ways to pull off shots, so I can compete with the guys who have more distance or mass.”
This year, he wants to qualify for the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Country Club in South Carolina, U.S. Junior Amateur at The Honors Course in Tennessee, as well as the U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills in Michigan. Oh yeah, he wants to win them, too.
“Yes, I want to become the best junior amateur in the world, but, to do that, I have to keep my focus on an individual tournament level. I want to end every tournament knowing that I took all the steps necessary to play well, regardless of the outcome,” Noah said. “There are so many things you can’t control in golf, but the one thing you can control is your commitment.”
Competing at this level brings amazing life experiences. At the age of 15, Noah has already had the chance to play a course roster that most golfers don’t see in a lifetime. He’s played practice rounds with rising star Bryson DeChambeau. On occasion, he runs into Jordan Spieth, if the two cross paths during a Cameron McCormick session.
With all the good, there are some trade offs.
“Golf can be a lonely game. With all the practice, you can’t have a normal teenage social life,” Noah said. “You spend time with other junior golfers, and go out to dinner together at the tournaments. But, at the end of the day, they want to beat you. You’re lucky if you find a person who wants to beat you at the tournament but still wants to be your friend. My closest friends understand that golf is what we do, but it doesn’t define who we are. But, then again, that’s what we signed up for. I know how blessed I am to be able to play this sport, and to have parents who have given up a lot so I can follow my dream.”
Could Noah Goodwin be the next Texas golf phenomenon? No one knows for sure. But, based on his work ethic, focus and sheer love of the game, this much is certain: he’s going to give it everything he’s got, and then some.
How can anyone root against a kid like that?