Arkansas golf coach Brad McMakin dealt with a lot of superlatives as he talked about Taylor Moore. He talked about his golf game, his makeup and his blood lines. Then, he went too far. McMakin said his freshman standout was such a fine athlete that the 5-10 golfer could dunk.
McMakin is almost beside himself when he tries to describe what it meant to land Moore, perhaps the nation’s top junior golfer from Edmond Memorial High School right out from under Oklahoma State.
If there was ever a town tied to a golf school, it would be Edmond to Oklahoma State. That’s where the legends of O-State golf reside.
Nevermind that both of Moore’s parents, Rod and Melinda, are UA grads. Rod played baseball under Norm DeBriyn and Melinda was a cheerleader.
It was still a monumental recruiting feat because Taylor often drove to nearby Stillwater to study OSU standouts Rickie Fowler and Kevin Tway. And early in Moore’s junior career, you’d see him wearing O-State colors, orange and black.
All of that just made McMakin’s recruiting victory over the Cowboys a little sweeter. And don’t ever forget that McMakin covets any victory over Oklahoma State and the sweetest happened in Edmond. McMakin was captain of the 1989 Oklahoma Sooner team that knocked off Oklahoma State at Edmond’s Oak Tree Country Club.
“Yeah, I do like it,” McMakin said when asked about beating the Cowboys. “I really do.”
McMakin, in his seventh year at Arkansas, wanted Moore badly. He said he knew early in Moore’s junior career that he would be the number one target in the country. He’d already set sail for any Moore outing before hiring assistant coach Barrett Lais three years ago.
“The first thing I told Barrett, we have to sign Taylor Moore,” he said. “We have to. That’s your job, make sure we get him.”
It’s simple. McMakin knew that Moore had Arkansas ties. Melinda is from Little Rock. Rod, who grew up in Oklahoma and attended Seminole Junior College before hooking up with DeBriyn, bleeds Razorbacks, too.
“They are diehard Razorback fans,” McMakin said. “I knew how much when I’d go see Taylor play a junior tournament and he’d tell me that mom and dad were in Fayetteville to watch the Auburn game. They’ve had season tickets for a few years.
They are not going to miss many football games and they come for a lot of basketball and baseball games, too.
“Still, it wasn’t easy. You don’t go to Oklahoma State and sign the best player in the state. I’ve been following Oklahoma State for a long time and talk to others that go back further than me. I don’t know that Oklahoma State has ever lost the best player in Oklahoma — and especially one who was also perhaps the best in the country.
“That’s what makes it fun to do it. I have great respect for (OSU coach) Mike McGraw — he’s first class all the way — and know he worked hard, too. They did everything they knew to do to keep Taylor home.
“But you can’t miss on a great one with Arkansas ties. There is never any guarantees, but you have to do everything you can to win these types of recruiting battles. I will say he’s the best player I’ve ever signed.”
There’s that simple fact that Rod and Melinda are Razorbacks, but it wasn’t an easy task to land Moore. He was told from an early age that when it came time to pick a college, he’d be given total freedom in the choice.
“Taylor knows how we feel, but at the same time, we made sure he knew we supported him no matter what he did,” Moore said. “And once he settled in that he was a golfer, it was pretty clear that Oklahoma State was a really good choice, too. How can you argue with what they’ve done there.
They’ve got 11 national titles. They have guys all over the PGA Tour. And right here in Edmond, you go to Oak Tree and about any day you go to the range, there’s Scott Verplank, Bob Tway and a ton of other great O-State players. He was around that from the time we moved here.”
That was early in Moore’s junior golf career. Born in San Angelo, Texas, where Rod was head coach at storied Central High, Taylor was exposed to every form of athletics. His father coached football and baseball at both Texarakana schools, sending the likes of Jacob Skinner and Jeremy Harrell to Arkansas. He finally got out of coaching to settle in with an oil and gas company in Edmond. But the baseball and basketball didn’t fall away until just a couple of years ago.
“Taylor is just so athletic that he could have done a lot of things,” said Rod. “I was pretty sure it was going to be baseball until he hit about 14. He played on a high level travel team that won a lot of national titles. He played short and second. He was about as smooth as you were going to find for a middle infielder.”
Arkansas sophomore Brian Anderson and freshman Isaac Hellbusch were on those same travel teams. That was the heart of a great infield.
“Taylor played up on Brian’s team,” Rod said. “You’d have a hard time finding a better double play combination. Brian might have had the better arm, but not by much. They could turn it as slick as you are going to see.”
Taylor said his early dreams were of playing for the Hogs, just like his dad. He remembers going into Dave Van Horn’s office on some of their trips to Baum Stadium just to say hello. Rod and Van Horn are long-time friends from college days and there time together in Texarkana when Van Horn was a junior college coach.
DeBriyn recalls Rod’s days as a Razorback with fondness. Rod also worked as a graduate assistant before heading to Texas to coach high school football and baseball.
“Rod could hit a fast ball, but really he was more of a defensive star,” DeBryin said. “He could really run in center field. He covered a lot of ground.”
Rod said, “Coach D is being nice. I could hit a fast ball, but once they figure out you can’t hit a curve or a changeup, you don’t see anything else. It was awful trying to hit a changeup.”
Rod wasn’t a golfer when he got to Fayetteville, but he was by the time he left. DeBriyn tells stories about giving the staff a half day off and almost every time Moore would head to Paradise Valley to find Deane Pappas, a star on the UA golf team.
“Say, we’d have the guys come in for some work in the cage at the end of the day and here would come Rod, covered in sweat in his golf stuff,” DeBriyn said. “I’d ask him about his scores and he’d say, 1-over. He got pretty good.”
Rod said, “Deane got me up to speed pretty fast. We had classes together and he told me he could teach me. I started out not breaking 90, but in two years, I was probably scratch.”
Taylor Moore got the good genes from dad and maybe better ones from Melinda.
“I’d have to say both of them were pretty athletic and I benefited in all ways,” Taylor said. “They said mom was pretty good at gymnastics, so that’s athletic ability. They said she had leaping ability. I think I got that from her.”
Rod said, “No doubt. Speed was my asset and I could leap a little, but Melinda really had ability. I saw this happen and then we got pictures. But there was a game where she was leading the football team through the “A” and she did a series of back flips. There is a picture of her in the last flip, she’s horizontal and her complete body was above the top helmet of the football players. It’s pretty neat to see, incredible actually.”
McMakin has heard stories about Taylor’s basketball exploits.
“You go to Edmond, and folks tell you about him with great awe,” McMakin said. “I’ve heard that twice he got called for goal tending. He’s 5-8. So he can really get up. He can dunk.”
Okay, time to check out that rumor.
“Not with a basketball,” Taylor said. “I can get up high enough to dunk a basketball, but my hands are little. I can’t grip a basketball. I do dunk a volleyball. I think if my hands were bigger, I’d dunk with a basketball, too.”
Basketball was fun until an injury two years ago. Already the nation’s top junior player in his class, it was clear that golf was going to be his college sport.
“I dislocated the knuckle in my index finger,” Moore said. “It looked pretty bad. Looking at it, I wondered if I was going to be able to grip a golf club again. They fixed it and I was playing again in a few weeks. But that told me I better stop this before I really get hurt.”
The choice to give up baseball came earlier.
“I kinda already knew it was going to happen,” Rod said, “because there would be weekend choices -- go to a travel tournament in baseball or a junior tournament. He was starting to pick golf more and more. But there was a baseball tournament in Kansas City where it all sort of fell in place. It was going to be golf from that point.”
Taylor described it in better detail.
“We got it put to us by an umpire on three or four calls,” he said. “Bad calls. I was really upset. I thought, ‘In golf, this doesn’t happen. You are not at the mercy of the umpire.’ I didn’t like the idea of another person holding control over my future. And that’s always the way it is with baseball. There are going to be bad calls. If you can eliminate that, you ought to. So I did. I was very upset about it, but it turned out to be something that got me pointed to golf. So it was a good thing.
“I’d been playing 100 baseball games a year until then. I thought I was going to be a pro baseball player. Not after that trip.”
Rod laughs about it.
“Oh, yeah, he was upset,” he said. “I believe there were tears involved. He was that mad. And he brought it up that maybe golf was a better deal.”
That doesn’t mean temper doesn’t flare on the golf course, too.
“You ask me where Taylor gets his athletic ability,” McMakin said. “Like Taylor said, from both parents. But I can tell you this: Taylor gets the temper from Rod. He’s still got that and we are working to get it out of him. He had some instances where it cost him in the fall. But he’s learning.”
There was a tournament at Olympia Fields where Moore was 6-under early in the round, but fell apart because of his temper.
“He shot a couple of 80s because of that temper and not being patient,” McMakin said. “I’m not sure he’d ever shot 80 before in a big tournament. He had some hiccups this fall, but most of it stemmed from course management. It’s hard for him to back off a tough pin. He doesn’t think he’s going to birdie some of the holes. He thinks he’s going to birdie all of them.
“College golf is more like PGA Tour golf. They hide every pin. They don’t make it easy. And Taylor had to learn that there were some you just leave alone. I’m telling you, that was tough for him. He thinks he should be able to go after all of them. I think we’ve gotten through to him on that. He’s smart and he learns. But there isn’t much ‘back off’ in Taylor. He is the ultimate competitor.”
Moore is not scared to listen, that’s for sure. McMakin and Lais saw a swing flaw during all of those junior golf rounds. They looked forward to making a change when he got to college, but not until after the fall schedule.
“You need time to make a change and we thought it would be good during the break between the fall and spring,” McMakin said. “It wasn’t much. He was a little steep in his plane. We wanted to flatten it out. His divots were real deep. We thought getting him more shallow would keep the ball on the club face a little longer and give him a little more control.”
There were immediate dividends. He was able to switch from a 10.5 degree driver to 9.5. His length increased and his accuracy with the long irons jumped.
“I’m still working on it,” Taylor said. “It takes four or five weeks to get a swing change down. This isn’t major, but it’s a change. I’ll have some time the next few weeks and I ought to be good. I wasn’t nervous about it at all. Made perfect sense.”
That’s part of the trust factor Moore has with McMakin.
“This is why I picked Arkansas, to play for him,” he said. “I came to practices when I was looking at Arkansas. I saw the work that Brad was putting in with the players. I saw how they improved. I came to college to get better. I want to play the PGA Tour. The way they work here is going to help me get there. I’m all in.”
McMakin just smiles when he hears those words.
“I don’t have any doubt Taylor bought in,” McMakin said. “He’s a great player, a great teammate and a great Razorback. He helps us in recruiting just by coming here, but when we have someone here for a visit, Taylor wants to recruit them. His teammates love him. There is no jealousy.”
There were two top five finishes in the fall and he was on the lead early in several tournaments. McMakin said it’s only a matter of time before Moore breaks through. He won 14 high school tournaments and was two-time state champion at Edmond. McMakin is generally not into predictions, but he made a big one for Moore.
“The sky is the limit,” McMakin said. “He’s a hard worker, he’s dedicated and I think the adjustments and things he’s learned in the fall are going to be huge for him in the spring. He fixed that very small mechanical thing. He’s learned some patience. He’s learned what college golf is about.
“I will be surprised if he doesn’t win three times in the spring. The college golf world better look out starting Feb. 9.”
That would be the first day of the spring season when the Hogs play in the Gator Invitational.
“I think he’s going to be very good with the change we made,” McMakin said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he is not the SEC player of the year. He will be in position to reach his goals.”
Oh, the goals are not set low. Moore is fine with playing four years at Arkansas and putting up another diploma like the ones his mother and father earned. Education is important. Mom Melinda is an English teacher at Edmond Memorial. But Moore isn’t shy about saying he wants to play on the PGA Tour and soon.
“I don’t think he’ll be here four years, I never did,” McMakin said. “My job is to get him to the Tour. That’s what we are working on with Taylor and the rest of our guys. Whether or not it takes two years or three with Taylor, may be the question. But the good thing with Taylor is that he loves being here and four years will be good if that’s what it turns out to be. He loves everything about the Razorback experience. He’s a good student and he loves going to football, basketball and baseball games. He enjoys the experience.”
“He’s just so talented and special that I don’t think it’s going to take him long. He understands the goal is not to be playing the mini tours, but the PGA Tours and winning major championships. He’s that talented and that focused.
“I’ll tell you how talented, the swing change, although not major, might take some six months. He got it in two weeks. He understood it and believed in it. He’s got a little time to make sure he has it, but I think we saw him run with it pretty fast. Last week he shot five under on the front at The Blessings. That’s fantastic playing out here.
“Some might have been nervous to make a change like we did. I worried that Rod might be nervous we were doing it because he’s such a good player already. But it was something he needed to do and Taylor knew it, so he could be good on the Tour. We want to get him there as fast as possible.
“We want to produce the best player in college golf and that will allow him to sign (endorsements) for millions. If he gets that kind of an offer, I want him to go. But I don’t want him to go early and end up on the mini tours. If he gets a big offer and is on the Tour, then that’s a feather in our cap and a sign to recruits that you can get that done by coming to Arkansas.
“What I know is that he comes to practice every day trying to get better. He’s like Tiger Woods and Tom Kite. Every day they try to get better. I think he’ll be the same way when he’s 30, just special and trying to get better. I’m telling you, the world better watch out because he’s trying to light it on fire.”
Moore didn’t bat an eye when those words were mentioning.
“I study what Tiger has done, what Rickie Fowler does,” he said. “Those are the ones I want to be like, accomplish what they have on the course. I came here because I thought Brad McMakin was the way to get there. I looked at everywhere. My parents told me to go where I’d have the best chance to be the best. I saw that when I came to visits here and saw the way our coaches worked with our players and how badly the players wanted it here. I saw them work together, compete and do it every day in practice. I never saw anyone do anything but work when I stepped into this facility. I saw that Stacy Lewis came here and she’s the best. She did it here. She still comes back here to work.
“I also saw how badly the coaches here wanted me. I remember playing in a U.S. Amateur qualifier at Tulsa Country Club. It was 110 to 115 and Brad McMakin walked every hole of that round. No one else did.
“That’s not all there is to picking a school, but I noticed. I noticed that every time they could be there, they were there. The first day you could get a letter from a college coach, there was a letter on my door step at 5:30 a.m. that first day. All of that was important, but I want to be somewhere they are going to make me the best.
“I would have gone to Boise, Idaho if I thought that was the best place. I wasn’t coming to Arkansas because my parents did. I would have gone to a random school had it been the best place for me. But there isn’t any doubt that it all fits for me here. I just feel blessed to be here.”
What about leaving early?
“I was walking around the house one day and it came up,” he said. “Remember, my mom is an English teacher and a degree means something. But I told her, I might be gone from college in two years. Tiger left early. Fowler left early. I just want to make sure I’m ready to go straight to the PGA Tour and not have to spend time on the mini tours.”
McMakin is going to make sure he enjoys that time.
“He’s a neat and special kid,” he said. “He makes it fun. He’s always trying to have fun with everything.”
McMakin reminds of a not-so-fun moment just after Moore committed. It was right after he walked away from his car to play the Rolex Juniors at The Blessings.
“I’d seen him wear that orange and black during his junior days and we finally got him to wearing red,” McMakin said. “So here he was committed to us and walking into our practice facility here wearing that dang orange and black. I thought what’s going on? I said, ‘What’s this orange and black junk now.’ He looked at me and started smiling and he went back to the car.”
Taylor Moore had no intentions of wearing any more orange and black.
“I was just messing with Coach,” he said. “I told him, ‘Coach, I got my red in the car. I’m going to put it on. Just wanted to see what you’d say.’ It was probably a bad thing to do to him.”
That orange and black is all gone now.
Taylor Moore is primed for a big spring.
Photos by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated