Noah Gillard tells the story like he’s describing a walk around the block.
The 15-year-old qualified for the U.S. Junior Amateur golf championship by winning a sudden death playoff following 36 holes on June 19 at Prestwick Country Club in Avon. The Junior Amateur is as big an event as there is in the country for a golfer of Noah’s age, but
you’d never guess from the even-keeled manner in which he describes the playoff.
Tied with one other golfer for the second and final qualifying spot after shooting rounds of 72 and 75, Gillard and his opponent began the playoff at the first hole.
“For my tee shot I hit a hybrid. The wind was blowing into us, so I switched from a 5-iron earlier in the day,” he said. “I hit it to 150 (yards from the pin). I hit a nine iron to about 9 feet and made the putt. It was crazy. They said, ‘See you in Houston.’”
Gillard will play at the U.S. Junior Amateur at TPC Woodlands in Houston on July 21 and 22. Following the opening two rounds, the field is cut to the low 64 scores, at which point match play begins.
Some of his low-key approach in recounting the story of his high-profile accomplishment may be due to expectations having been carefully managed.
“I was shocked when I saw I was going to a playoff because I didn’t think I was going to make it that far,” he said. “I really wasn’t supposed to play in that tournament. I told my dad I wanted to play, but technically he didn’t want me to play in this.”
Gillard’s father, Dave, sits nearby and grins at these comments. He provided an explanation.
“He was scheduled to play an American Junior Golf Association event in Illinois,” Dave Gillard said. “That one was for kids more his age, 12 to 15, and I thought he had a chance to win. The U.S. Junior Am is so big. You only get one shot at (qualifying), and it’s everybody up to age 17. I just felt he had a better chance to do well at the other, but he said he thought he could make it, and I liked his confidence in himself.
“So I said ‘OK, it’s your choice. If you’re that confident, let’s do it.’ And he went out and did it.”
The decision having to be made stems in large part from the success Noah is having in golf events of all types.
He has finished in the top 10 of a number of AJGA events around the Midwest. He qualified for the Optimist International Junior Golf Championships at PGA National in Florida, as well as the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship at Pinehurst in North Carolina (recently the site of the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Opens).
Additionally, Gillard has carded an impressive 65 for 18 holes at Sultan’s Run Golf course in Jasper and a 29 for nine holes at Smock Golf Course in Indianapolis.All these accomplishments come from a player who begins high school at Center Grove this August.
While his golf game belies his age, his humble attitude and easygoing temperament leave no indication as to how promising a golf career he has ahead of him.
“He is the most laid-back person,” said his mother, Amy Gillard. “He takes everything pretty much in stride. He has his routine and does not sway from it. He is appreciative and gracious.
“He shows no emotion when he’s out there. He has an even keel about all of it.”
The attitude on the golf course his mother describes may, in fact, have much to do with his success. Noah is coached by Kurt Schier, who runs a golf academy out of Southern Dunes in Indianapolis.
“He has the perfect temperament for a golfer,” Schier said. “He’s a pretty quiet kid all around, and he’s not going to get too fired up if he’s five under or too upset if he’s 15 over.”
Amy Gillard cautions against mistaking that lack of outward emotion with any missing amount of competitiveness on her son’s art.
“He has played basketball all the way through middle school, and he always wants the team to do well and to do well individually,” she said. “He just likes to compete.”
Racking up victories
Dave Gillard said he had an idea early on that Noah might be a talented golfer.
“At 6 he had a natural swing,” Dave said. “He didn’t take lessons early on and just picked the club up, and it was like a natural movement for him.”
The Gillards enrolled him in a junior golf program in Indianapolis and watched as the honors started rolling in.
“His mom or I would caddy for him,” Dave recalled. “He actually didn’t want to get started doing it because he liked playing baseball, but we got him started because his (older) brother was doing it and figured he would enjoy that too. By the time his second tournament came around he got a medal for finishing in second or third place, and he was just hooked.”
Gillard earned player of the year awards for five consecutive seasons and also began winning junior tournaments sponsored by Indiana Golf Association.
He began taking lessons with Schier at 9 and has been taking lessons more consistently for the past couple of years. Schier, best known for his work with Avon’s Patrick Rogers, an all-America golfer at Stanford who recently joined the PGA Tour, said Gillard is an ideal student.
“Noah is excellent to work with because he is willing to come in with an open mind. He’s willing to listen and do what he needs to in order to get better,” Schier said. “He practices super hard. He has natural ability and that good attitude I mentioned.
“It’s just a good combination for things to come. I see big things ahead for him. I’ve been around golf for a long time, and he is one of those kids from a college standpoint particularly where he can probably go wherever he wants to go. I think he’s that good.
“He has the potential to keep playing after college as well. It’s awfully early to say he’s as good as someone like Patrick Rogers, but he compares favorably. He’s pretty close to that.”
Faith keeps him grounded
Gillard admits playing in college and as a professional are important goals to him but maintains a matter-of-fact demeanor when talking about it. He speaks in a similar tenor about enjoying the Bible study he participates in with other students.
“It keeps my faith up, keeps me reminded about what is the most important thing,” he said, adding that his faith and his parents also help him to maintain an even temper on the golf course. “If I get mad I just don’t play very well, so I know I have to keep a good attitude.
“My dad reminds me to stay patient.”
Gillard’s patience was tested recently when he missed a couple of months on the golf course this spring after partially tearing an Achilles tendon while playing basketball.
Amy Gillard said for now, Noah, who is 6-4 and still growing, will try to maintain involvement in golf as well as basketball.
“Since we live in an area where the ground is frozen in the winter, he can use basketball for conditioning in the offseason,” she said. “Of course we prefer he not get hurt, and it’s hard to do both sports at a big school like Center Grove. But if he has the opportunity and he still wants to, we will encourage that.”
Whatever the future holds for Gillard in athletics and everything else, it seems likely that he will take it all in stride.