Few golf fans knew who 22-year-old Seung-Yul Noh when he stepped up to the first tee at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last April.
But they certainly knew him three days later, after he set the 54-hole TPC Louisiana course record and cruised home Sunday with a 19-under-par score of 269 — one shot off the tournament record at the course.
When the final putt dropped to finish off his first PGA Tour victory, Noh received the traditional South Korean celebration of having cold beer or champagne poured on him by compatriots when they rushed the green.
Noh, who returns this week to defend his title, sat down with The Advocate in March at Media Day to talk about how his victory changed him, getting an invitation to the Masters because of his victory here, and the changes he’s made in his game.
You won a European Tour event, the Malaysian Open, as an 18-year-old in 2010. What was it like winning on the PGA Tour for the first time?
It was very special to win here because since I’ve been playing golf, it was always my dream to play on the PGA Tour and play in a major — especially the Masters. Winning last year here gave me a chance to play in my first Masters. So I’ll remember it always.
What has changed about you since last April?
Nothing has changed. It changed my career and my dreams. It’s the first of many, right? Maybe winning the Masters would change my life (Note: Noh tied for 38th last week in his first appearance at Augusta National).
Earlier this season, you hired a new coach and new trainer. How are those changes working out so far?
I didn’t have a great early season with the new coach and trainer, but I had to break in a new swing. It’s getting better, and hopefully, it will be great. I’m always working hard, and my game is getting better. I feel like some good results will be coming up pretty soon.
Why did you hire a new coach?
I didn’t have a coach for about 16 months, and I was asking a lot of players about a good coach. I had two coaches before, and they were great teachers, but they were working with a bunch of guys. I wanted to find a good coach who could spend more time with me. Adam Schriber worked with Anthony Kim. And my trainer, Chris Noss, has worked with Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson. So it’s good.
What specifically did you feel you had to fix?
I just had to get my back in good condition. And we needed to fix my swing, just some little swing motions, because I was playing too inconsistent. I would play good some weeks, then play bad some weeks. One day, I would hit a lot of greens; and the next day I would miss half of them. I needed to be more stable, more consistent, for the whole week.
How is your game coming along?
The best part of my game right now is chip and putt. I’ve struggled with the swing, it wasn’t really good early. But I was chipping and putting good in the early tournaments.
You became only the fifth Korean to win on the PGA Tour. Did you become a hero back home and become more recognizable in the U.S.?
Yeah, because I was on TV all day (laughter). But in Korea, all the younger guys don’t play golf. The favorite sports are baseball and soccer, more team sports. But after winning, a lot of younger guys know my name. At home, I went to a department story and someone said, “Are you Seung-Yul Noh?”
What would be the shot from last year’s tournament here that you’ll remember for the rest of your life?
At No. 16, my second shot. I was 140 (yards) from the hole and hit it to about 2 feet and made birdie (for a two-shot lead going into the final two holes).
What was it like getting a beer bath on the 18th green from Y.E. Yang and Charlie Wi?
It was cold! A lot of Koreans do that after winning, so I did that when James Hahn won this year in Los Angeles. Korean players are really friendly to everybody, so we share the feeling of a champion.