Now the 22-year-old South Korean is eligible for the Players Championship next month â€” not to mention next year’s Masters â€” thanks to the nerve he showed in capturing his maiden tour triumph at the Zurich Classic.
“Dreams come true,” Noh said after his 1-under 71 Sunday gave him a two-stroke win worth $1.22 million. “When I started at 7 playing golf, I dreamed of always playing (on the) PGA Tour … or playing any major, especially the Masters.”
Noh deftly navigated wind gusts up to 30 mph and showed little trouble maintaining his composure while playing in the final group with Keegan Bradley, a former PGA Championship winner.
“Last whole season – very disappointing,” Noh said. “So it was (a) very good experience for my game. I’m mentally stronger, so I don’t get nervous.”
Noh is in his third year on the tour, but finished outside the top 125 on the money list last season, forcing him to play in Web.com Tour Finals events to retain his tour card. In 77 previous PGA Tour starts, Noh never finished better than a fourth-place tie at the 2012 AT&T National.
The Zurich Classic marked his first lead through three rounds, but his chance at victory looked tenuous when he made his first bogey of the tournament on the first hole of his final round.
One hole later, Bradley made birdie to pull into a tie for first.
“Very challenging today out there, especially playing with Keegan, a major champion, and heavy wind,” Noh said.
But Bradley slipped down the leaderboard with a bogey on the fifth hole and a triple bogey on the sixth, while Noh remained steady enough to hold off the remaining challengers.
Noh needed some clutch shots on the back nine. They included a chip out of a grassy downhill lie on the edge of a bunker on 13, which hit the flag on a bounce, setting up a routine birdie putt. On 16, with the wind in his face, Noh landed his approach 3 feet from the hole to set up his last birdie. He then made a 14-foot par putt on 17 to assure a two-shot cushion on the final hole, pumping his fist afterward.
When Noh wrapped up his victory with a par putt on 18, fellow South Korean players Y.E. Yang and Charlie Wi charged toward him, dousing him with bottled beer. Noh smiled, removed his hat, held out his arms and soaked it all in.
Noh also knew he achieved another goal of providing some joy to a nation that has been reeling since a passenger ship capsized April 16, leaving more than 300 missing or dead.
“Hopefully, they’ll be happy,” said Noh, who wore black and yellow ribbons on his white golf hat to honor victims of the ferry accident.
Noh had seized the third-round lead while becoming the first to play 54 holes at TPC Louisiana without a bogey. His 19-under 269 for all four rounds made him the seventh first-time PGA Tour winner in the last 10 years in the New Orleans event.
Andrew Svoboda and Robert Streb tied for second. Svoboda had a 69. Streb shot 70, including an eagle on the second hole, and was one shot off the lead after a birdie on 8. However, his tee shot on the par-3 ninth hole landed in water, and he made double-bogey.
Jeff Overton, who briefly pulled within a stroke of Noh on the back nine, had a 70 to finish fourth at 16 under.
Bradley wound up with a 75 to tie for eighth at 13 under.
On Saturday, Bradley worked his way into the final group, two strokes behind Noh, with a 65. His slide on Sunday began when he missed a par putt from less than 2 feet on the fifth hole, and followed that up by hitting his drive into the water on No. 6.
“I actually played pretty well,” Bradley said. “Just made one bad swing on 6 and had a bunch of lip-outs.”
Overton closed to one stroke after his 20-foot birdie putt on 10, only to bogey 11.