Seung-Yul Noh: Who Was That Masked Man?

Remember the old Lone Ranger television show opening where the Lone Ranger would do some heroic deed and as he rode off into the sunset, one character would turn to the other and say, “Who was that masked man?”

Well, the first round of the Deutsche Bank Championship — the second of The Playoffs’ four tournaments — was a little like that. On an updated TPC Boston course that was supposed to be a setup for new thrills and chills, most of the attention was on the redesigned 18th hole. Gil Hanse, the architect chosen to design the Olympic course in Rio, had come in and laid down still more of his “this is the way we found the land” magic.

The 18th had become such a pushover, they had to do something to make the pros really think through how to play the hole for each of the four pin positions. The green had been raised two feet and then lost about a third of its size in favor of chipping areas. The aerial before and after was pretty interesting. And that was the word that the Tour was trying to evoke from the players as they pondered their choices, interesting.

So the broadcast started as Tiger did on the back nine. He was 2-under on a clean card when he birdied the 18th. Apparently not much had changed at 18. So he makes the turn and birdies one…and two…and three…and four…and five. Six birdies in a row to get to 8-under! Wow! Each week he keeps getting better, keeps getting closer. He did finish with a bogey, but he knew he played great:

I played really well today.  I hit a lot of good shots, and on top of that I putted well at the same time.  It was a nice little combination…overall I was very pleased with the way I played today and controlled it, and then the wind started picking up, and I still hit really good shots.

He did. It was something to watch.

And then the broadcast began paying attention to this Korean kid, Seung-Yul Noh (Sung Yule No) who is 21 years old and has a golf swing that is poetry in motion. The camera couldn’t stop watching him.

They got interested when he birdied four in a row on the front — 4 through 7 — to get to 5-under and the love affair continued into the meat of the back nine where he birdied 13 and 15 to pull even with Tiger. And then he stepped right on over him with two more birdies on 17 and 18 to get to a phenomenal 9-under and in the lead by himself.

Like the Lone Ranger, he came into the tournament an anonymous No. 54 on the FedExCup list and left the day with a one-stroke lead, known to the world and a projected No. 1 on the FedExCup if he can keep this up and win the tournament. One thing is for sure, it won’t be his swing that will stop him.

Noh is a new student in Sean Foley’s stable along with Tiger, Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan. And the AP’s Doug Ferguson tweeted a tongue-in-cheek comment by Mahan about Noh’s work ethic:

“If Foley tells him to do something 1,000 times, he’ll do it 1,000 times.” Hunter? “I’ll do it 900 times and quit.”

And the way that Foley works with him because of the language barrier is quite interesting:

You said you started working with Sean Foley in May.  Can you tell us why you started working with him, and my understanding is the way he does instruction with you is a little different.  He shows you actually pictures of what he wants you to do; is that correct?

Uh‑huh.

Could you talk about why you went to him?

He had a great three players, and then he got like simple swing, and very similar with my golf swing, I think.  So that’s why I’m going to him.

And then a little bit of change, golf swing, so more consistent every day, the golf shots.

He does show you pictures when he’s instructing you, or how does he work with you?  Photos?

Sometimes he sends to me by text, like Justin Rose swing, and then Hunter, Tiger’s swing sometimes send to me, and then he says, look at the three guys’ swing, and then think about myself and then try to myself, so that’s a good thing.

Note: It’s not clear whether “try to myself” means “try it yourself” or perhaps, “try to be yourself.” I hope it’s the latter because Foley has an introspective reputation and adapting swing principles while remaining true to yourself is probably the ultimate in attaining mastery.

And then this sweet exchange. Keep in mind, Noh understands and speaks English at a pretty high level, so it’s impressive that all of his interview was done without an interpreter:

Did you have many people following you out there, rooting for you?

Today?

Today.

Not much.

Do you think they know who you are?

Some people say Kevin Na, like “Go, Kevin.”  I don’t know.

If he keeps it up, they won’t be calling him Kevin for long.

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