Notebook: How the U.S. Open kick-started Norton's rise
18 Jul 2019
by Julie Williams of AmateurGolf.com

see also: The Players Amateur, Berkeley Hall Club, Noah Norton Rankings

Noah Norton (Photo by Clyde Click/Georgia Tech Athletics)
Noah Norton (Photo by Clyde Click/Georgia Tech Athletics)

BLUFFTON, S.C. – Before the weekend even began at the Players Amateur, Noah Norton left open the possibility that something crazy was possible at Berkeley Hall Club. It was the golf equivalent of calling the 8-ball in the corner pocket – sort of. Regardless, a closing 9-under 63 out of Norton on Sunday reflects the work he’s been putting in.

“This week, I feel like I’ve played good enough, it’s just I’ve made a couple costly errors. It’s hard to swallow and it’s hard to stay patient and know tomorrow I could go put up a really low one,” Norton said after the second round. “There’s guys in this field who can do it and just getting used to this fact that it’s not like something you have to do that day, it’s just putting yourself in the best position to do that on any given day.”

Sunday at the Players Amateur was that day. After middling rounds of 70-69-72, Norton had eight birdies and an eagle in a final-round 63. It bumped him inside the top 10.

Norton could be this summer’s low-key “it” kid. He qualified for the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach (in his native Northern California, no less), was 13th at the Northeast Amateur and finished runner-up at the North & South. That put him inside the top 100 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He is currently No. 87.

Norton’s U.S. Open sectional qualifier started out with two consecutive bogeys. Had he let that day get away from him, the summer might have gone very differently. Asked if that kind of resiliency is trademark Norton, he responded, “I like to think I am. … I try to keep myself as stable as possible. Over the years, I’ve gotten better and better at it.”

As a sophomore at Georgia Tech this past season, Norton was able to devote time to his long game and getting off the tee. But he also worked on himself, off the course.

“That was awesome,” he said of the sectional, “because it really showed it.”

At the U.S. Open, where a Chico-born Norton found himself among an overwhelming number of friends and familiar faces, he got to play a practice round with former Yellow Jacket Matt Kuchar. The biggest learning curve was not in how Kuchar and company play the game, but on the layouts they play.

“It was just kind of the course conditions and getting used to it and I think they were just more familiar with the conditions we were in, the atmosphere and everything. I think that just comes with experience,” he said. “Obviously those guys hit it good and far and they’re really efficient with their work, and I think that just comes with time and practice.”

Norton missed the cut with rounds of 80-75. Still, his stock grew.

In terms of familiarity and comfort level, the more important takeaway from Norton’s past few weeks may, in fact, be his runner-up at the North & South Amateur played at Pinehurst No. 2, host of next month’s U.S. Amateur.

As Norton creeps up the rankings and appears to be in the middle of a hot streak, he’s not a bad fringe pick for the Walker Cup. He’s at least someone to consider. But should Norton win the U.S. Amateur, an event into which he’s exempt courtesy of qualifying for the U.S. Open, he’d be an automatic selection.

To even be in that conversation is one thing that leaves Norton at a loss for words.

“That’s kind of something that comes as a product,” Norton said, citing the process of getting better, day by day.

• • •

STEVEN FISK TRACKER: Since March, recent Georgia Southern graduate Steven Fisk’s game has been about maintenance. After a flare-up of tendonitis in his left wrist in March, Fisk has been careful to rest it as much as possible while still competing as much as possible.

“Back in college, as weird as that sounds to say, I wouldn’t practice,” Fisk said. “I’d practice two days before we’d leave for a tournament. Usually we’d play every other week. I’d take eight or nine days off between events.”

He finished the college season with a runner-up to Matthew Wolff at Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Ark., a beast of a championship venue. He didn’t compete again until playing the Korn Ferry Tour’s Lincoln Land Championship on a sponsor exemption he earned by winning the Fighting Irish Classic (one of six individual college titles in his senior season).

In what was his first start in a professional event, Fisk finished 34th. He discovered there wasn’t much of a gap between his game and that of Korn Ferry regulars, and his scoring backed that up.

“The fields are just so deep and everybody out there is so good, but if you have a good week and you putt well out on the Korn Ferry Tour, you’re going to have a chance to win.”

Most recently, Fisk tied for eighth with Norton at the Players Amateur.

“I’ve been driving the ball well and my distance control has been good so I’ve been having a lot of good looks and keeping the ball on the right side of the hole and trying to limit the mistakes as much as possible,” Fisk said after back-to-back opening rounds of 66 at Berkeley Hall Club in Bluffton, S.C.

He intended to play the Dogwood Invitational to start the season, but when Georgia Southern qualified for the national championship, Fisk had to shelve that start in the name of recovery. Much of June was about resting, but now it’s back to competition. Fisk is finishing out the summer as an amateur in hopes of a selection to the Walker Cup team. At No. 8 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, he is the fifth-highest ranked American and would be a smart pick, given his results over the past year.

• • •

THE OTHER GEORGIA SOUTHERN SENIOR: True, Fisk is the most recognizable name from the Georgia Southern golf class of 2019. However, there was another senior instrumental in the fabric of a team that advanced to the NCAA Championship this spring for the first time since 2010. Crawford Simmons, 28, was a non-traditional senior for the Eagles last season. This season, he’ll stay on as assistant coach.

Simmons is a native of Statesboro, Ga., who was drafted out of high school by the Kansas City Royals in the 14th round of the 2009 MLB Draft. He pitched in the Royals' organization for five seasons. After his baseball career ended, Simmons returned to Georgia Southern and eventually walked on to the golf team. Head coach Carter Collins liked what he might add to the formula.

“My wheels got to turning, we had a very young team them, and we really needed some strong leadership and somebody with tremendous feeling for golf,” Collins said in May before the NCAA Championship, a tournament in which Simmons did not compete.

In his four years at Georgia Southern, Simmons appeared in 16 tournaments, with his best finish a T-20 at the 2018 Georgia Southern Individual Collegiate. For Simmons, college golf was something of a second lease on life in the athletic world. Collins called him a rock for the program, and that will continue now with Simmons in his new role.

“He’s one of those mentally tough, hard-working, all grind all the time mentality,” Collins said. “We wouldn’t have accomplished near what we have without Crawford.”

• • •

TOURNAMENTS TO WATCH: On a week of top-level women’s golf, don’t miss the conclusions to these major women’s amateur events:

North & South Women’s Amateur (July 15-19)
Pacific Northwest Women’s Amateur (July 15-19)
Women’s Western Amateur (July 16-20)
Texas Women’s Amateur (July 16-19)
California Women’s Amateur (July 16-20)
U.S. Women’s Amateur final qualifying roundup

• • •


Remarkably, U.S. Junior co-medalist William Moll is making his USGA debut this week. He clearly liked what he found. (Moll went out in the Round of 32 at the hands of Jacob Sosa.)

"It was like a whole new experience playing singles match play. You only have to beat one guy. You can adjust your play off how they play.”

• • •

TWEET OF THE WEEK: In terms of U.S. Amateur qualifying news (all of which you can find here), this is one of the coolest stories we’ve heard yet. SMU coach Jason Enloe will be teeing it up at Pinehurst.

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