State of the Hogs: Taylor Moore

Taylor Moore is about finding the winning edge, whether that means putting in the dark or pumping iron. The junior golfer has been superb as the top gun on the Arkansas men's golf team.

Taylor Moore is always looking for an edge. The junior from Edmond, Okla., was like that as a teenager and nothing has changed for the number one golfer at Arkansas.

Rod Moore, his father, recalls leaving Taylor at the golf course past dark as a teenager as he worked on his putting.

“He’d put his cellphone into the cup so he could see it,” said Rod, a solid outfielder for Norm DeBriyn’s Arkansas teams. “You wonder how much you can get done in the dark, but Taylor wanted to do everything he could to get better.”

Moore was the nation’s No. 2 prospect when the Hogs outfought Oklahoma State for his signature. Some thought he’d be a one-and-done and off to a pro golf career. Now, it looks like he’ll make it through all four years at Arkansas.

“I think he will come back,” said Brad McMakin, the Arkansas coach. “I’d just be surprised. But he’s about to go on a winning spree.”

Moore has three top five finishes this spring. Indeed, everything is clicking, including improved putting. His wedge play is off the charts after spending long hours in the new chipping and putting facility at The Blessings constructed by Dave Pelz. Moore thanks John Tyson for giving the Hogs the top facility in the country.

“It’s the best,” Moore said. “We can do it all inside, from putting, to chipping to lag putting. We love it.”

McMakin said it’s like a new gym for basketball players.

“We can work at night, just be gym rats,” McMakin said. “We have a great weight lifting facility in this building, too. We came back from a tournament last week and the guys went from the airport to the weight room. They wanted to get in a workout after traveling.

“They just come here to hang out. There are big screen TVs and our guys will watch our football team or basketball team as they practice. There is nothing like it.”

There isn’t a need to putt at a cup with the light of a cellphone.

“No, but I did that,” Moore said. “It’s about getting an edge. I wanted to do things that I knew the other top players around the country weren’t doing. I lifted weights.”

That was a by-product of growing up in the home of a coach. Rod Moore coached baseball and football at Texarkana, then at Edmond, before settling into the oil and gas business.

“My dad talked to his players about getting an edge,” Taylor said. “So that’s what I wanted to do. I was lifting weights as a golfer in high school. I knew that Tiger Woods was doing that. I wanted to do everything I could to get an edge. Jordan Speith putts with his eyes closed to practice short putts. It’s about getting an edge.

“God blessed me with talent, but I want to do everything I can to maximize those gifts and try to get an edge.”

Sometimes it’s just about having fun. Taylor loves hanging out with the baseball team. He was a middle infielder on the same travel team as former Arkansas star Brian Anderson. His friendship with Anderson helped make new friends on the baseball team.

“I’ll just go over to the baseball indoor facility and take ground balls with them,” Taylor said. “I love it. Jackson Lowery had me over there last week and they were hitting fungos to me. I can still throw it. I’d fire it to first from shortstop.”

So that was a one-time deal?

“No, I get over there a couple of times a week,” he said. “I know a lot of the guys on the team.”

Baseball coach Dave Van Horn thought he might get to coach Moore at one point.

“He came to our camps,” Van Horn said. “I was a grad assistant for Norm when Rod played. So I know the family.”

Last spring, the baseball team and the men’s golf team were at the same hotel in Columbia, Mo., for a weekend. The golf team was playing in an NCAA Regional where they scored a big win.

“We were in the lobby Saturday morning and Coach Van Horn hollered at me, said ‘Hey golfer!’” Taylor said. “So we talked for several minutes. The guys on the baseball team were kind of surprised that we had that kind of conversation. They were saying, ‘You know Coach Van Horn.’ Well, our families go back a long ways.”

Moore gives much credit to McMakin for his progress on the college circuit. There were swing changes as a freshman. He’s currently switching to a claw grip that seems to have ignited his putting.

“We decided to try it,” Moore said. “It’s worked pretty well the last two tournaments. Adam Scott just switched to it. I like it. I went with it for short putts, and then to six footers and I’m extending it out to 10 feet now.”

The swing is rock solid.

“He did have some things that needed to be changed when he got here,” McMakin said. “My job was to make him better. He’s always been a great student and he’s had the ability to strike the ball. He’s had four tournaments this spring where he’s had rounds where he hit every fairway, every green. We’ve had to work more on his putting than ball striking this year.

“He is trying the claw. He does everything we suggest. He’s been unbelievable this year.”

Moore leads the team with a 71.4 stroke average, but it’s 69 if you throw out one tournament.

“You throw out Olympia Fields and it’s off the charts,” McMakin said. “He’s having a year like Sebastian Cappelen did last year. He’s on his way.

“What he’s done is grow up mentally. His first couple of years here, he would let the emotions get to him. He’s improved in that area.

“I think he’s going to be a great Tour player. He just needed to learn a few things and he’s done that. His course management is better.”

Moore agrees. Until the last year, there were not many times he’d back off on a tough hole. It led to a few bad scores.

“I don’t have those anymore and when I do, I don’t let it get to me,” he said. “I can take a bad round and bring it back. Our last tournament, I was three-over early and that would have been a 75 or 76 last year. I brought it back to even.”

McMakin said, “It’s just part of growing up, learning when you are supposed to be aggressive and when par is a good score. The course management is there now and he doesn’t let things bother him.

“We had things we have addressed with Taylor over the three years. There was some swing mechanics early. He got those quick. Then, it’s been course management and finally his emotions. He’s got all three. Now, it’s just getting that edge in his putting. He putts it, he’ll be holding trophies.”

There was a time that McMakin could tell by body language how things were going for Moore during a round.

“We talked about that,” he said. “I wanted him to be the same whether he was 5-under or 5-over. I could tell from two holes away how it was going for him. Not now. He’s so good right now. When he breaks through, he may win 10.”

There have been flashes on the amateur circuit. He was medalist at the U.S. Amateur, against a field of 315. He made it through to the semis at the Western Amateur at Aloutian Club in Little Rock.

“I have relatives there,” Moore said. “My mother grew up there. She graduated from McLellan. So that was nice to do well there. It’s such a great place.”

Both his parents hold UA degrees, something important to Moore now. His mother, a former UA cheerleader, teaches English.

“The University of Arkansas is important to his family and to Taylor,” McMakin said. “That’s what makes it so fun to watch for me. He’s got Razorback in his blood. He loves every aspect of being here. He loves going to see the other teams play.

“I’ll never forget going to see Taylor in a big junior tournament. His parents were not there for the final round. Taylor said, ‘Oh, we are playing Auburn today. They are going to the football game.’ And, that’s so fun for me as a coach to have a kid like this.”

Arkansas had a chance in recruiting because of the Arkansas legacy, but Moore was close to Rickie Fowler at Oklahoma State. It was McMakin that swung the pendulum.

“Taylor loved Brad from the start,” Rod Moore said. “He is the reason he went to Arkansas. They’ve become very close.”

Taylor knew he would get better in all areas, including training his body.

“Coach McMakin lifts weights and we all know it’s a way to protect your body from injury,” Taylor said. “You do a repetitive motion in golf that wears down your body. You can protect it by working the muscles in opposite ways.

“Coach McMakin lifts and it’s a part of our routine. We know he’s very strong.”

Moore, a standout point guard at Edmond, isn’t big, but he’s strong pound for pound.

“He’s 5-8 and so explosive that he can dunk a volleyball,” McMakin said. “I think he weighed 135 when he got here. He’s 165 now. He can bench 230. That’s very strong.

“I think it’s helped his length. He’s always hit it far enough, but he’s added 20 yards since he’s been here. But the main thing, he’s got a great core and it’s going to help him stay healthy.”

Moore said, “You put a lot of pressure on your back with the torque of a golf swing. So staying strong and fit is protection from what we do to our body with a swing. I’m not very big so I swing hard. I know I have to keep my body strong.”

Moore and McMakin are close enough that they can trade barbs. Moore got his coach pretty good last fall.

“We caught him wearing a medium shirt,” Moore said, noting that McMakin should be in an extra large. “Coach is muscled up. We gave it to him hard.”

McMakin shook his head in disbelief when told his star gave him up on that story.

“He told you that?” McMakin said. “Well, I’ll get him back. You don’t tell that until you are a first team All-American. But I did it. I did have on a medium. I don’t know where it came from but I put it on.”

Well, Moore might be that soon enough.

“That’s how he’s playing right now,” McMakin said. “I’m proud of him. He’s worked so hard. He’s put in three very good years here.”

It’s longer than Moore expected.

“I’m not sure how long I thought I’d be here, but not long,” Moore said. “I knew that a lot of good players did not finish college. Jordan Speith didn’t make it through his second year. But it became clear that I needed to stay in school.

“I had to make changes, learn how to manage my emotions and it’s really helped. I came here to learn under Brad. I put my trust him as my coach.

“We knew this facility was coming. He showed me the plans. It’s really unbelievable though. It’s like the baseball indoor facility. Really, it’s so nice it’s a joke. You can’t believe it’s so good.

“There is everything you could ever want. You can come here anytime and work.”

It’s like in the old days of putting the cell phone in the cup, or working long hours with a whiffle bat trying to learn to hit a curve.

“Dad would come home from baseball practice and we’d get the whiffle ball out and I’d hit,” Moore said. “Whatever sport, we’d put in the extra effort. Like I’ve always said, if I can make a putt in the dark, I can make it in front of 20,000 at a Tour event. I believe that.

“This summer, I stayed in Fayetteville. I got up every morning, lifted weights at 6 a.m., then got my practice done. I believed that I was the only college golfer up at 6 in the morning lifting. No one else was doing what I was doing. Get an edge any way you can.”

McMakin thinks the Hogs have the edge. The new indoor facility was probably the difference in signing the number one junior player, Dallas product Austin Connelly.

“I don’t know if he’s coming to school,” McMakin said. “But we signed him. He plans to go the qualifying school in the fall as an amateur. If he doesn’t make it, he’ll come to school in January.

“I think he’ll make it, but a lot of great ones don’t make it the first time. But he’s really good. He is winning everything.”

Moore has some advice.

“Come to school,” he said. “It’s great. I’ve enjoyed it all.

“The Tour can wait. It’ll be there. I know that now. I’m getting better. You couldn’t have a better place to get better.”

Taylor Moore is getting that edge.

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