COLUMBUS, Ohio – Seung-Yul Noh has been aching for this break.
It was early summer when the young Korean started to yearn for his homeland – nothing drastic, maybe just a one-week journey to recharge his batteries and indulge a little in the comforts of home.
Now, at long last, Noh can reward himself. And he’ll have a little something to show off to family and friends.
“I want to go home as soon as I can,” he said Sunday, seated behind the crystal trophy from winning the Nationwide Children’s Championship. “Maybe tomorrow, but I don’t know. I’ll check the flights and then hopefully [fly] back home.”
Here’s hoping the process is as efficient as Noh’s five-stroke romp over his nearest pursuers in the third leg of the Web.com Tour Finals.
Other than perhaps a 10-minute stretch when an early bogey briefly cut his lead to one, he never felt much heat as he made his way through Ohio State’s Scarlet course. Three straight birdies immediately followed the bogey, opening a gap that allowed him to cruise home with a 2-under-par 69.
It matched the largest winning margin this season and vaulted him to No. 1 on the Finals money list.
“I’m just thinking, keep going. Same feel, same mental [approach],” said Noh, sporting a scarlet shirt and gray pants at the suggestion of his caddie. “Just feel like [I’m] playing the first round. … I felt very comfortable.”
Said caddie Mike Bestor: “He didn’t get too excited. He may have gotten a little bit quick on a couple of holes … but even when he missed putts or got a bad bounce, he didn’t really overreact. He stayed calm.”
At 22 years, 3 months, Noh became the 11th youngest winner of a Web.com Tour event. With his return for another PGA TOUR season now assured, it also put a crown on what had been a trying 2013 campaign.
It began with an equipment switch. After turning heads last year when he finished 37th in FedExCup points, Noh signed a deal with Nike that ended eight years of using Titleist clubs and balls.
Finding the right specs, though, dragged on for weeks. Noh said it wasn’t until the Wells Fargo Championship in May that he found a driver he liked. He went through three variations of balls. The putter count reached 15 before Noh lost track. Ditto for a 60-degree wedge.
“Yeah, everything [took] three or four months,” Noh said.
Meanwhile, the missed cuts also started piling up. After tying for 16th at the Northern Trust Open, Noh went through a two-month drought in which he made just one cut in eight starts. The cloud got so bad, Noh found that he couldn’t even withdraw properly.
Bothered by pain between his shoulders, Noh walked in midway through his second round at the Memorial Tournament just up the highway at Muirfield Village. But he never bothered to tell a TOUR official, resulting in a DQ instead of a WD.
“I’d never WD’d in my life,” Noh explained. “I didn’t have experience. I just withdrew, but never talked to anyone [after] I played the 18th green.”
Needless to say, Noh could have used a break. He hadn’t been back to visit South Korea since the middle of December, moving into his new home base in Dallas. But he couldn’t bring himself to break away.
In this case, it’s not that you can’t go home again. But you can’t go home when you’re playing poorly.
“I really struggled this year,” he said Sunday, reciting a list of opportunities when better results might have allowed him to consider a vacation.
“I can’t go home [when I’m] playing every tournament, every week,” he said. “After Wyndham there’s just one week [before the Finals], so I can’t go back to Korea.
“Then I’m playing good at Fort Wayne [where he finished seventh], and I’m thinking of playing good last week and then going back to Korea. So I got a missed cut and came here.”
Everything finally seemed to fall in place at the Scarlet course. After finishing 119th on the PGA TOUR in greens in regulation, he led the NCC field by hitting no fewer than 13 in any round.
“It seems like the last two months, he’s been saying he’s pretty set with the driver, set with the putter,” said Bestor, Noh’s caddie last year before parting ways at season’s end. They reunited when the Finals began.
“I think this just builds confidence. I know it’s the Web.com [Tour], but it’s good to win anywhere. There are good players in the field and this just builds more confidence.”
Hey, the 2013-14 PGA TOUR opener is just four weeks away. Before that, though, there’s a phone call or two to be made.
Hello, Korean Air.
“It’s been a long time,” Noh said.
No better time than now to unwind.